Whether you’re trying to raise money or secure a licensing deal, taking away perceived risk is essential to bringing a concept for a new product to market. You’re always going to have to convince someone of something — namely that your idea and by extension you, are worth investing in. Risk is inherent in any business venture, of course: That’s just the nature of business. But there are concrete strategies you can deploy to assuage fears and keep moving the ball down the court.
Ultimately, if you want to get paid for your ingenuity, you need to get figure out how to get people behind you. In practice, that’s less of a lofty goal than it might seem. Over the course of my career, after having brought many different products to market, these are the tactics I’ve discovered get deals done and forge critical partnerships. Use them to slay perceived risk.
1. Become a storyteller.
Do you know what your story is? Your story is your reason for being, your purpose. And when it comes to pitching, when you need to really connect with your audience — well, to successfully tell your story, you need to make it all about them. That’s where your one-sentence benefit statement comes into play. Appeal directly to your audience. Every word you choose counts, because you need your audience to identify with you quickly. Remember, we’re all consumers. We’re united in that way. We share the same experiences, the same pain points and frustrations.
When I made a presentation about my rotating label — my big idea — at Pfizer, I was out of my league. The other men in the room had doctorate degrees. I could barely pronounce the ingredients listed on the company’s cough syrup. But it didn’t matter: I spoke from and to the consumer’s point of view. I focused on the fact that my label would deliver more content. I knew there had been issues with compliance, that consumers were experiencing difficulties. And I was a parent to boot. So I spoke to that. I was able to pierce them emotionally. And it worked: They were interested.
We relate to stories best. We remember them. Not facts. Not figures. So hone in on your story and practice your delivery. Of course, every audience is different — the best approaches are tailored, not rote.
2. Know how to protect your intellectual property.
We all want to keep others out of our business. It isn’t easy. But it isn’t impossible, either. One surefire way of mitigating risk is by familiarizing yourself with the landscape of intellectual property related to your innovation and the industry at large. There is so much you can learn by studying the history. It’s all right there in the patent filings, which are yours for the taking. What have others done? How have similar products evolved? What does the market look like today in comparison? What can you deduce about what’s worked and what hasn’t?
It does take time. But if you work at it, like I did, patents will become less and less indecipherable. In time, they’ll actually paint a picture. Studying the prior art is so valuable because doing so will help you hone in on the uniqueness of your idea. And for the intellectual property you file to be strong, you need a credible and sincere point of difference. Ultimately, reading prior art will help you map out your own way forward. For those of you who are thinking, “But what if my idea is the first of its kind!” I say: There is always prior art. And that’s a good thing! Those old patents, they’re a gold mine. Plunder them.
There are firms you can hire to do prior art searches for you, but I think it’s worth the effort to teach yourself how to it even if you decide to hire one. There are free resources available online, including classes taught by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Go beyond utility patents, and teach yourself how to use provisional patent applications, design patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets.
If you’re asked about prior art during an important meeting and can respond thoughtfully, you’re well on your way to landing that deal. Being asked about prior art is actually a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate just how much you know about why your idea can and will solve the problem other patents have failed to. If you can articulate the clear benefit of your concept compared to others, you’re money.
Simply paying a law firm to file a patent application on your behalf and thinking you’re good won’t cut it. That is not a strategy. Please, do not think you can outsource the work of developing a strategy — a plan — to your attorneys. That’s not their job. It’s up to you to understand how prior art is going to impact your business moving forward.
What I know is this: The work your attorneys do for you will only ever be as good as the information you provide them with. They approach intellectual property from a legal perspective, as they should. You need to approach it from a business perspective. Know the difference between the two.
It really comes down to how much time and effort you’re willing to spend teaching yourself. It’s not about money. You can ask a future partner to pay for your intellectual property moving forward and even possibly recoup some costs.
3. Harness the power of pull-through marketing.
Nothing mitigates risk like proof of demand. Everyone wants to know: Do consumers need this product? Will they buy it? How can I be sure? Finding someone who wants to buy your product and bringing their order to the table is a way of saying, “Hey — this is real. This is happening. Are you in?” Pull-through marketing can take away enough risk to get the crucial partners you need on board.
For example, when one of my students invented a game-changing packaging innovation, it was clear he would need a significant amount of time and money to develop it. So he did a small production run with a specific intention: To intrigue a bigger fish. Sure enough, a leading beverage manufacturer got in touch with him to ask for a huge quote. With that enormous order essentially in hand, he was able to team up with manufacturers that would have ignored him before. They’re ready to invest their time, energy and money into his project. It’s amazing how fast things move when there’s a purchase order hanging in the balance.
That’s a classic example of pull-through marketing. It’s especially useful, and often necessary, when you’re working on bringing a ‘big’ idea to market — an idea that will require a significant amount of capital to seize the market.
See? That wasn’t so hard. Use them in conjunction, and become unstoppable.