Ask an Expert
Monday, 03 April 2006
Getting your idea off the ground
By Steve Strauss
Usatoday.com, Ask and Expert
Q: I have an idea for a new product but am not sure how to get started. I have money to invest, but I certainly don't want to waste it. What suggestions might you have?
A: Well, Mike, although I have previously been involved with the process of taking a new product from inspiration to launch, as my role was on the business side I figured the best way to answer your question would be to speak with an expert: Someone who has successfully launched an innovative product.
And with my beloved UCLA Bruins (class of '81) playing for the national championship this week, it doesn't hurt that the product in question is basketball-related.
Glenn Hudson is our man. An inventor out of Mackinaw, Ill., Hudson came up with an idea for what has become the best basketball practice product in the country.
Glenn always loved basketball, being the defensive specialist he was back in high school, and his love for the game was cemented when his team made it to the Illinois State Tournament. But it was when a teammate took him to a gym in a nearby town one day and made him shoot again and again and again that he first appreciated that it is repetition that makes a great scorer. The next night he went out and scored a career-high 26.
That lesson came back to him many years later with the creation of the Shoot and Star Rebounder (www.shootandstar.com.) This product is as simple as it is ingenious. Built of a net that attaches on one side behind the basket and on the other to two aluminum poles, the Rebounder allows a player to shoot from anywhere on the court and have the ball flop into the net and then roll back to wherever the player was shooting from.
Hudson's popular product has been tested at colleges (e.g., Illinois State University) and is now sold throughout the country, as well as places as far off as Australia.
So how did he go from inspiration to product? Hudson is a big believer in the power of the Internet. Begin, he says, by Googling your idea. "You first need to see if there are other similar products out there, and if so, what they cost and how popular they are," he notes.
That is the sort of inexpensive market research that I love.
Next, Glenn says, it is vital to come up with a plan that allows you to start small. Get a copy of a non-disclosure agreement (also known as an NDA) and have people whose opinions your value, sign it and then get their brutally honest feedback on your idea.
Next, he says, use the Net to find affordable manufacturers and suppliers. Glenn Hudson used the Web to find everything he needed to create his product – from suppliers to tool and die shops. He especially recommends the Thomas Registry (ThomasRegistry.com.)
Once he found affordable parts suppliers he began to manufacture his product. The key to this stage, he says, is to "test, test, and test some more. Incrementally build your business until you are really ready to take it to the next level."
Hudson uses the Net as well to sell his Rebounder. He built his site himself and continuously works on it to improve his search engine results. He especially recommends:
• Using keywords throughout your site
• Having good content on your site that incorporates those keywords – articles and such
• Exchanging links
• Getting people to blog about your product or site
Hudson also suggests that new inventors consider checking out a great site that helps inventors promote their products – AmericanInventorSpot.com.
When I asked Glenn if he had any last thoughts for me, he wisely said, "Go Bruins!"
Today's tip: When I asked Glenn Hudson whether he had thought of taking his product to the new ABC TV show American Inventor, he demurred, noting that he liked the idea of retaining control of his product. If anyone wants to apply, he suggested that they read all documents related to any such endeavor very carefully.
Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. He is this year's SBA Small Business Journalist of the Year. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —www.mrallbiz.com.