There is never been a better time in history to be an inventor than now. Really!
When I graduated from college in 1979, the Internet as we know it did not exist, no one had email. If you wanted to call someone, you picked up a landline telephone, not a cell phone. The only “crowd funding” for a business was from a crowd of your friend and family – and they expected to be paid back, plus interest.
Generally speaking, in the early 1980s starting a small business in the US was somewhat cumbersome and expensive and it was very risky. Research was done in libraries using the Dewey decimal system. Of course, there were successful inventors and entrepreneurs back then, but the tools available to them, compared to 2018, were almost a joke.
The prevailing view then was that you graduated college and then got an apartment, a “good job” and maybe 5 or 10 years later if you saved up enough cash, you might start up a business enterprise part-time.
Flash Forward to 2018 – the Living is Easy – Mostly
Now, my iPhone has vastly more computing power than the “huge” RM05 disk drives (that held 500 MB of data) and PDP 11/70 computer sites we used when I worked at Boeing in the early 1980s. For less than $500, today, I can set up a studio in my home or apartment complete with microphones, high resolution video cameras. I just need a laptop, which I can purchase for a few hundred dollars. Then, I can broadcast all over the world via Facebook Live, YouTube and many other media. In fact, I can do that with my cellphone too.
Today, the capital cost and the risk are dramatically less. Really, anyone can start up a small business and start selling a product or a service within a matter of days or weeks. There is no guarantee of success, but the barriers to entry are almost non-existent. At the same time, having a “secure” job has become a relic of the past for most workers. Whereas in the 80s having a small business was viewed as risking capital that might never be seen again, now having a small business is a buffer against losing your job (which will happen, it is just a matter of time).
Do you have an idea for an invention? You will need some prototypes. No problem, almost every major US city today has “makers spaces” where for a small monthly fee, you can get access to 3D printers, CNC machines, saws and lathes of all types. If you don't know how to use the equipment, someone will train you. Now you have some prototypes to test out and validate your product design.
Great, you can reach out to thousands of manufacturers in China who can do small production runs for you so that you can begin market testing your product. I know, because I did that successfully for my thin wallet design.
But, I Really Just Don't Have Enough Money to Get Started
Sometimes the greatest idea just seems grounded because you may find yourself working paycheck to paycheck. Even $500 or $1,000 is just not something you can find in your budget.
No problem, just use OPM – other people's money. Kickstarter and Indiegogo and other crowd funding sites can allow you to propose a project and a budget, say $30,000. If you attract enough people to your cause to fund your project in 30 days, you can use their money to get your product up and running. Josh Malone, a Plano, Texas inventor created a huge push for his product, Bunch O' Balloons, from a Kickstarter campaign that soon hit over $1 million in contributions.
Lastly, with huge retail platforms like Amazon.com, eBay, Alibaba, and others, you can sell your products worldwide.
For all of these reasons, you really should have a small business of your own, at least part-time. I recommend being an inventor, because if you license your product successfully (as I have done) you may be able to use your time as you choose.
If you think you can… or you think you can't … either way, you are probably right. Henry Ford