Community//

Louis Foreman of Enventys Partners: “You need to clearly define your customer”

You need to clearly define your customer. Who is that person? Please do not say everyone in the world. That in itself is absurd, and even if everyone did want it, could they afford it? Could you manufacture that many units and distribute them all? You need to be able to paint a narrow picture […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

You need to clearly define your customer. Who is that person? Please do not say everyone in the world. That in itself is absurd, and even if everyone did want it, could they afford it? Could you manufacture that many units and distribute them all? You need to be able to paint a narrow picture of your perfect customer and understand their demographics from age to income and geographic location. Armed with this information, it becomes easier to quantify the size of the potential market and do the necessary research to see if those customers want your product.

Sometimes we get so enamored with our idea and the feedback that we get from friends and family, that we forget there is a larger market out there that needs to want the product too. We need to make sure that we define the perfect customer for our product so we know who to survey and sell to.


As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Louis Foreman.

Louis Foreman is the founder and CEO of Enventys Partners, an integrated product design, engineering, and marketing firm headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., and the founder of Edison Nation. Over the past 34 years, Louis has created 10 successful start-ups and is responsible for the creation of more than 20 others. A prolific inventor, he holds 10 registered US patents, and his firm has developed and filed more than 750 more. Louis also serves on the board of directors for numerous organizations and teaches courses on entrepreneurship, innovation, and intellectual property at several universities.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I started my first business out of my fraternity room in college. I played Lacrosse and we did not have a local supplier of equipment. In my Econ101 class I learned about supply and demand, and if there was a demand for a product or service and no one was satisfying that demand, there should be an opportunity. So rather than take notes, I took action. That initial business of selling lacrosse equipment to local teams eventually pivoted into screen printed apparel, and by the time I left college, it had grown to become the 24th largest screen printing company in the country.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” by Wayne Gretzky. People are afraid to fail, but failure is an essential ingredient in innovation. You need to fail fast, fail early, and learn from each mistake to increase your likelihood of success.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I enjoy reading business magazines and trade publications. Staying current on new start-ups, emerging technologies, and industry trends allows me to expand my knowledge and expertise. Occasionally I like to read a book about a company to get the real story about how they got started. One of my favorites is Against the Odds: An Autobiography. It is the story of James Dyson and how his 5,127 prototypes led to the Dyson vacuum cleaner. It is a wonderful story about the importance of how important it is to have a passion for what you are doing because that passion will get others to follow. It reminded me of the patience inventors must have, because everything ends up taking longer than expected. It also stresses the importance of perseverance. Life and business will throw all sorts of obstacles in front of us, but if we truly believe in our idea, we eventually will succeed.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?

I have always questioned why things are done the way they are done and wondered if there is a better way. Some of my earlier inventions (and patents) were in the field of sports protection, namely soccer shin guards and baseball protective guards. The products available on the market did not fit well, and as a result, did not provide the optimal impact dispersion. I was inspired by the technology that was being used for splinting and casting in the hospital and thought this could be the ideal material to use for sports protection. I took my idea and developed some of the first custom-formed soccer shin guards. I eventually licensed them to Nike, Adidas, and nearly every other major soccer company in the world.

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

It’s the eureka moment. You wake up or suddenly realize that you have an idea for a product or service that will transform the world. If you are like most people, this will happen at least once and perhaps many times in your life. After all, we are a society that has always prided itself on being inventive and discovering the remedies to life’s pains.

The difference between having a good idea and making money from that idea lies in the execution. I completely agree that most people have great ideas all the time), but the vast majority will never follow through on them because life gets in the way. They don’t have the time, financial resources, or understand the process.

My current company, Enventys Partners, was started to overcome this problem by providing the necessary resources to go from a sketch on a napkin to the store shelf. In the past 19 years, we have developed over 2000 products that simply started as an idea. Many of those products became the cornerstones of new small businesses.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

While I agree to an extent that some people think their ideas aren’t unique, the reverse is equally true. Many people come up with ideas and are in denial that anyone could have already thought of it. When people don’t see the product idea at their local retail store, they assume they are the first to come up with it.

Today, there are so many online resources to help identify if a product has already been created, or if there is existing IP on the idea. Before you get too deep into the development of your idea, you need to do a thorough search online to see if (1) the idea exists, and (2) any patents already cover the concept. This can be done using a search engine like Google and looking at images to see if you see something that looks like your idea. You would also want to search the USPTO.gov website to determine what prior art or patents exist.

Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?

I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing inventors and entrepreneurs over the years. When we were producing the PBS television show Everyday Edisons, I interviewed Jeff Bezos, James Dyson, and many other innovators. What I learned from these individuals is that they were never afraid to fail. They were afraid that they would live their entire life without ever taking the chance to succeed. That mindset is radical and continues to stick with me.

For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

Over the past 19 years, my firm has been involved in the development of over 2,000 consumer products and medical devices. Many of these take a similar path from the sketch on the napkin to the store shelf. And while there may be some pivots along the way, here is a typical path for a consumer product:

  1. Identify a product that addresses a problem or need and determine what makes it unique from all the others that are out there.
  2. Determine the feasibility of this idea (see the 5 questions)
  3. Research the product and industry. Are there other products that exist? What is the direct and indirect competition?
  4. Search for patentability. Do an initial prior art search online to see if there are any products similar to your idea, and then do a more thorough search using the USPTO database of patents to see if there are existing patents that cover the idea. You are looking to see how likely your idea is novel and therefore potentially patentable. After searching to see if any patents exist you can file for protection. Starting with a provisional application, this is an inexpensive way to give yourself “patent-pending status” while you research the invention and decide whether to move forward. Within one year, you’ll have to decide whether to file the non-provisional utility application, which hopefully will result in the issuance of a US patent. That patent gives you 20 years where no one else can make, use or sell what you have created.
  5. Prototype. Reduce your idea down to practice by creating a “works like” prototype. This doesn’t have to look like the final product, but it should show that it can function as you have envisioned it. Prototyping is a process and with each version, you learn something new. There is a reason that James Dyson had 5,127 before he was satisfied with his vacuum cleaner.
  6. Design and Engineer the product. Once you believe that the idea is doable, hire a firm to handle the industrial design and engineering. Professional firms have the skilled staff to make the product look great, function properly, and provide the necessary engineering files that a factory will need to produce it at scale.
  7. Get manufacturing quotes. In some cases, you may be able to get quotes for manufacturing from the same firm that did your design and engineering. In other cases, you may decide that you want to pursue this on your own. It is important to determine if you want to have your product manufactured domestically or overseas. Typically, overseas manufacturing will result in lower costs, but longer lead time for delivery. You will also lose a little bit of control in the process because “driving over to the factory” is not nearly as easy.
  8. Crowdfunding for market validation. Crowdfunding has become an incredibly effective way to get market validation, as well as a way to generate non-dilutive capital for your business. By launching a crowdfunding campaign, and we have done over 2,000, you can pause before manufacturing your product and make sure there truly is demand at the price you intend to sell it for. You also build up some initial momentum and buzz that hopefully will carry your product forward to retail.
  9. Production samples. Once you have settled on a manufacturer, the process of open molds (tooling) and production of the first samples begins. There will be several iterations before they get it just right, so be patient during the process. You are looking for the initial samples that you can start showing to customers.
  10. Commercialization. Most companies take an omnichannel approach to selling their product. The crowdfunding process helps start the sales generation, but once you fulfill the orders to your initial backers you need to be thinking e-commerce (Amazon and your company’s website), as well as traditional retail. Having a proven track record of sales and good reviews from your crowdfunding campaign will make it far easier to secure interested retailers.
  11. Marketing. You need to continue to promote your product through digital and traditional forms of marketing. Keep adding fuel to the fire here and monitor the return on ad spend. You want to make sure that the money that you are spending is generating sales.
  12. Innovate. You need to continue to improve your product or develop complementary products that you can sell as well. Innovation happens quickly and if you are not looking to disrupt your competition, it is just a matter of time before they disrupt you.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While an entrepreneur in college, I attended an industry trade show and stumbled upon instant hand warmers, which were a completely new product at the time. The weather in the winter in Illinois was quite cold, and I knew that I could sell these at all the home football games for a handsome margin. I decided to purchase 40,000 units and have my fraternity brothers help me sell them. Well, the colder temperatures for football season didn’t come as planned. The first few games were quite warm, and the warm weather stretched into November. The very last game of the season, versus Northwestern University in December, should have been a frigid event, but it ended up being in the 60s. I didn’t sell a single hand warmer. It was a complete loss. Life is full of mistakes. The key is to learn from these mistakes.

The lesson in all this is that you need to stick to what you know and what you do. Hand warmers, while a great product idea, were outside my expertise, my control, and not core to my other business. I have used this learning experience in everything that I do. Find what you’re good at, stick to it, and perfect it.

The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

There are always challenges in the development process of a new product. Things are going to almost always take longer than expected, costs will most likely be higher, so you need to be committed to the process. Getting market validation early on is essential to limiting the potential risk of failure. We have leveraged crowdfunding as a way to validate consumer demand, generate initial sales, and get valuable consumer feedback on the product. Once the crowdfunding campaign concludes, this initial, market traction makes it far easier to attract traditional retailers, distributors, and e-commerce sales.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

So when that great idea comes to you, and you feel the sudden urge to quit your job and cash in your 401k to pursue it, take a step back and be prepared to answer these five questions BEFORE you start spending money on your great idea.

Your idea probably isn’t unique. I hate to break it to you, but the world doesn’t need your idea. It doesn’t need my ideas either. Really. It’s 2020 and civilization has gotten by this long without it. The reality, however, is that consumers will want to purchase products and services that make their lives easier, are better for the environment, bring joy to their lives, or cost less. You need to determine what it is about your idea that differentiates it from the competition, both direct and indirect, and why consumers will want to purchase it rather than something else that satisfies the same basic need.

Over the years, I have been shown thousands of products from inventors who believed that they had developed a truly unique product. To be honest, some inventors had, but the vast majority failed to do basic research to see if their idea already existed. A basic search on Google will give you an initial idea of what is out there. A more thorough search on the internet and using patent databases will also reveal whether or not your idea is truly novel.

You need to clearly define your customer. Who is that person? Please do not say everyone in the world. That in itself is absurd, and even if everyone did want it, could they afford it? Could you manufacture that many units and distribute them all? You need to be able to paint a narrow picture of your perfect customer and understand their demographics from age to income and geographic location. Armed with this information, it becomes easier to quantify the size of the potential market and do the necessary research to see if those customers want your product.

Sometimes we get so enamored with our idea and the feedback that we get from friends and family, that we forget there is a larger market out there that needs to want the product too. We need to make sure that we define the perfect customer for our product so we know who to survey and sell to.

Determine demand. If you know who your customer is, then figuring out demand becomes much easier. Just ask them! Conduct online surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews to determine what they like about your product, what they don’t like, how much they would pay for it, where they would expect to purchase it, and how often they would purchase. This information will help you determine if there is a large enough demand to justify the financial risk, or more bluntly stated if there is enough juice for the squeeze.

I spoke with an inventor once who was so afraid to share her idea with anyone, for fear of them stealing her idea, that she decided to develop and launch her product without market research. She simply went off her own belief that consumers would want her product. After spending nearly 300,000 dollars launching the product, it was a complete failure because consumers felt the product was too expensive and did not solve the problem it intended to address.

Outline a path to financial success. Bringing a new product to market is like embarking on a long journey, and you want to make sure you have the resources to get you to the final destination. Construct a start-up budget and Pro-forma income statement to determine what you need and how long it will take before you break-even and then become consistently profitable. You may discover that the financial rewards do not justify the risk.

I spoke with an entrepreneur recently who embarked on the journey and found that the destination was not nearly as rewarding as he had hoped. He began the process with a great deal of enthusiasm and personal savings invested, but unfortunately did not have the same advice entrepreneurs who read this will have. At the end of nearly two years of hard work and perseverance, he ended up with a well-developed product, some profitable online sales, but not enough revenue to justify why he quit his job in the first place. There just wasn’t enough “juice for the squeeze”.

Figure out the funding. Where will the money come from? Most businesses fail due to a lack of capital. They might have had the resources to get started, but not enough to get to profitability. Personal savings, combined with money from friends and family are a natural place to begin when trying to raise outside capital. If more is needed, banks can provide liquidity to existing assets. They aren’t a good source of investment dollars, but they can free up some of the equity you may have in investments that can be pledged as collateral. Angel investors are a more appropriate source for risk capital and will require a greater return than a traditional investor. Venture Capital is another option if your business has the potential to generate explosive growth and returns. Just remember, don’t start the process until you know you have the resources to get you to profitability. Finding resources later can prove to be very difficult and you run the risk of failure.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

I’d start by running through the five things I wish I’d been told to consider as a young inventor. What makes my idea unique and different? Who is my potential customer? Is there a demand for my idea? How much money will I need to produce it? Where will I get that money? Once you’ve answered those questions, or are on your way, consider partnering with firms or agencies like mine that have expertise in walking alongside entrepreneurs and inventors as they navigate the process.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

There are quite a few companies that provide services to inventors. Some of these are for the development of the product (product design, engineering, and prototyping) and some are to assist in commercialization (marketing, branding, and crowdfunding). If you do your homework and check references, these companies can be crucial in the transformation of your idea into a viable product. Some companies assist with licensing your idea. This is where you need to be extra cautious and decide if you are capable of doing some of this yourself. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I’d ultimately recommend doing as much as you can on your own, and then looking carefully at the help you need and who the best providers of those solutions might be to get across the finish line.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

The number one reason that businesses fail is the lack of capital. It is essential to have enough money to get the product to the point of profitability, or at the very least, consistent sales volume. Initially, you should bootstrap your idea until you can get close to launching. This will enable you to get a higher valuation and therefore less dilution for raising capital. Once the business is getting traction, you will have a number of options including angel investors to help get you to the next level. When there is meaningful revenue and it appears that the business is ready to scale, then VC is a good option.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have always felt that entrepreneurs have a responsibility to “pay it forward” and pave the way for the next generation to make their journey easier. With this in mind, I have been teaching entrepreneurship at three universities for over 10 years, mentor numerous start-ups, and serve on nonprofit and government boards. These small actions can have a multiplier effect on the lives and success of entrepreneurs.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I truly believe that everyone can have a great idea and that the vast majority of people will never follow through on their ideas. If I could inspire any movement, it would be increasing access to entrepreneurship and innovation lessons in our K-12 schools. Kids from every background need entrepreneurial role models and the chance to create, dream, and innovate. It’s their ideas that might solve some of our world’s most pressing problems. Typically lessons in innovation are taught in college, but I think we should start younger and be amazed by the solutions and ideas that are brought to life.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

If I could have a private breakfast or lunch with anyone in the world, it would honestly be you, the reader with a great idea. I have had the distinct honor and privilege to meet with billionaire inventors, Hollywood celebrities, sports stars, and a US President. Regardless of their success, they all share the belief that innovation is critical to business, society, and our country. And while these meetings can be quite exciting, I still get the greatest satisfaction from sitting down with normal people with big ideas and plans to bring them to life. I answer every single email I receive.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Jennifer Quinn Williams: “To develop resilience, fake it until you make it”

by Tyler Gallagher
Community//

Louis Foreman of Enventys Partners: “Outline a path to financial success”

by Tyler Gallagher
Community//

Rachel Fischbein of Fashion Incubator San Francisco: “A lifestyle brand can be quite nimble”

by Chef Vicky Colas
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.