Success Percentages are Always Disappointing

Let's face it, success percentages in difficult endeavors are always disappointing, typically less than 50%, often much less than 50%. In Freshman orientation for engineers, we were told only 1 in 3 of us would graduate (33% success rate) with an engineering degree. I made that cut and became an engineer.

For all small businesses, only 20% are still in business 5 years later (I made that one too).

Now it gets worse.

For inventors, success rates are eye-wateringly low. The best figure I found is that less than 5% of all patent holders profit from their invention (I achieved that as well). Some research indicates that less than 1 in 3,000 products launched succeeds. I think that is really too negative, the rate is bound to be a little better than that.

I'll just anecdotally assume that perhaps 1% of inventors are truly successfully with their invention. I define “success” here is an inventor who can make a living and pay all the bills each month from his or her invention. So, how can you become one of the 1% of successful inventors? Read on.

How to Succeed as an Inventor

There is no formula for invention success and, like many other novice inventors, I invented something, patented it, and threw all my resources and time into making it a success. I am now firmly on the path to becoming an overnight success – 12 years later. know many inventors who have followed a similar path who still aren't getting anywhere.

So, don't do what I did!

I am moving forward quickly on my second invention because I have finally learned a better path.

Here is what you should do if you want to succeed as an inventor:

  1. Decide whether you want to build a business around your product or license it
  2. Do some research and select product categories ripe for new innovations
  3. Develop ideas for products within one of the selected categories
  4. Winnow out the best idea; as appropriate patent it and move forward with it

By 1. above, if you are really good at building a business and feel confident you can launch a product and build a business around it, then go for it. If you are not good at that or prefer not to do that, then focus on licensing the product. If in doubt, focus on licensing your product – always less risky than building a business around your product.

Regarding 2., that is precisely what I did not do in the beginning and it was a big mistake. My Savvy Caddy thin wallets are a success in spite of the fact that the small leather goods category is extremely competitive with tight profit margins and is declining, rather than growing.

That is not what would be described as a category ripe for new innovations.

For 3., it is useful to have an example of a good product category for invention: pet toys. In America, the pets market is a $62 billion market that continues to grow every year. I have developed a new cat toy and cat toys are approximately a $3 billion market that is definitely growing.

People spend almost as much money on their dogs and cats as they do their children and, even in a recession economy, they continue to spend.

That is a great market segment. There are many others out there. Inventing a product into a strong category means it has a great chance to grow if it is a good product.

Lastly, select a good idea/product for development. Do your due diligence on patents and decide to move forward if the product looks like it can get a strong patent (I have written several blogs on this). Then based on 1. above either work to build a business with it or work to license it.

If I had followed the 4 tenets I set out above in the beginning, maybe it would have taken me 3 – 5 years instead of 12 to get where I am now.

Stay tuned!