Monday, April 28, 2014

5. Am I the right person for this project?

Time to visit the deep within. Most of us think we can do this - It's not that hard, right? Look, if you have a hard time finishing a bowl of cereal without being distracted, maybe you should consider having someone else follow this through. If you get mad over things like the toilet paper roll not being changed - probably need assistance! If you can't boil a hot dog without starting a fire - get someone to help. We don't possess every trait needed to find success, and relying on others is critical at times (most of the time) to getting to your goal. The key is not to consider yourself as failing if you require assistance - consider yourself intelligent for knowing your limitations. Find the appropriate avenue for development, and reap the rewards.

I know what I can, and can't, do. It has taken me some time (10 years) to realize this and even more time to accept it, but it is true - I have a group of skills but sometimes I cannot execute on the plan. I find those around me that can help that plan get to reality. This is the key. Granted, I am not always successful, but the more failure I find, the more I seem to overcome. Experience teaches us lessons that we can choose to accept and learn from, or choose to ignore. I prefer the former. The one kernel of advice I might suggest is to be brutally honest with yourself, and others, about your capabilities. It makes the expectations realistic, and the outcome more fruitful overall.

Monday, April 21, 2014

4. Do I know what resources I need to get this thing done?

Product development is a complex process, often times requiring the skills of many different subs to fulfill your vision. More often than not, the inventor does not hold all, or even some, of the disciplines and resources to get to the output of the product, and the projects can become paralyzed by the the inventor's ignorance of where, and who, to assist. This is not a criticism of the inventor, rather, an objective look at the reality of our capacities - I may believe there is a better diesel engine to be designed but I am most likely not the right person to go machine parts for the cause! Our skills and experiences cannot be all things, so we rely on others and their skills and experience to get us where we need to go.

I mention building a 'resource tree.' This handy illustration is often times sticky notes attached to whiteboards, or an Excel spreadsheet with lists and lists of names and companies. However the method chosen, building this is a critical step in diagramming the processes and 'stops' along the way to success. A great method for doing this is to write the names of those categories you will need, such as the illustration below:

This list will, and should, continue to grow over time. Don't forget, there is no limit to who and how many people and resources that this list shall hold, and even friends and family can be considered for these lists as well.

Tracking the Resource Tree is critical. Whatever you do, make sure to edit this list often, removing (or at least commenting on) those that did not perform well and replacing with some that are hopeful. I will sometimes rate each performance an a scale of 1-5 or something similar, thus recording my experience for future consideration of those resources. It is also a good idea to place the reference from which you might have come across this resource as they can often lead to even more resources for your use.

If you just don't feel you can go it alone, and would rather consider using a developer to push your idea forward, then I would encourage interviewing at least a few different companies to see what their history and successes are. For example, there are many inventor resource companies that will offer marketing and potential licensing opportunities for your product, in exchange for a flat fee. This fee can be large and the results unpredictable. I would use extreme caution in presenting your idea to any of these firms, rather perform due diligence with others that can deliver more tangible results. Consider only paying for milestone achievements, ensuring that work and results are in handle prior to paying out large sums of cash. That cash can be utilized elsewhere, trust me!

Sometimes, we just do not have the resources necessary to get the project done, and the best thing inventors can do is to be honest with themselves about their knowledge of how to get it done. Walking into this process blind can raise massive frustration levels, so read the blurb on patience ( prior to setting out! Either direction, going solo or enlisting others, or even a combination of the two, will at times be rewarding and at other times be as frustrating as anything. Having the proper road map of folks to help, however, may make all the difference in the world to your project becoming a success.

Monday, April 14, 2014

3. Am I willing to fund this properly to ensure success?

Whoa, Nelly! Answering this question can hit hard and fast. Funding any project is a challenge when self-funding, and can be even more challenging when outside sources are assisting in the effort. We'll discuss some different options here, and also tell of some real-world experiences that have occurred.

The Self-Funded Project and the wandering 'Bootstrapper'

Ah, being self sufficient and able to rely solely on your own bank account, credit line, credit cards, or some combination of the three. The challenge here is that with most projects the 'patience' needed has a direct relationship with the 'funding' at hand. Imagine that, you start running out of money, and 'patience' hitches a ride out of town with it! Now, most of us will properly budget and know the constraints of our funding and the goal we desire to reach, carefully balancing each obstacle with it's investment needed (notice I do not say 'cost' here,) trading perhaps a heavier investment now and finding a way to cut a corner or two later on in the process. I always think that when it's your hard earned money on the line, the story is a bit more dear to your heart, and the manner with which it is utilized might be soundly judicious. The key with any self-funded project is your planning for it, knowing the obstacles will come, and guaranteeing a reserve of capital somewhere that can stretch your budget, or at least make it more flexible. Just remember to keep an eye on the goal and not get too distracted as you will incur costs that might not truly be relevant to the goal.

My name is Will, and I am a 'bootstrapper.' (you say, "Hi Will") This is the practice of taking from one successful business to fund another venture and eventually develop it into an autonomous entity. A difficult method of building a business, one that often moves slowly and truly tests your patience. I have, successfully and unsuccessfully, built businesses this way. This method is NOT easy, and will often times be parasitic of the business that is doing the funding. If the goal is true and the aim correct, effort diligent, and the parties involved on board for the long haul, then this can and should be a success. I caution anyone attempting this to make sure the buy-in from the primary business is there, because if it is not, it will be ugly before you know it. Bootstrapping can and should work if the planning and execution stay contained and manageable. One of my biggest mistakes building an outdoor products company a few years ago was going too broad in product offering and not staying deep and focused on the primary breadwinner. Going broad typically leaves each channel exposed to greater risk, and while we all hear that 'bigger is better,' that typically is not the case here. Focus your energy, and funds, towards the goal and don't allow for 'scope creep.'

I've Got Friends and Family

Maybe the self-funded cash is limited, so this new great idea is going to have to rely on Aunt Louise and your BFF Peggy. They believe in the product, and they believe in you, but do they know the process their money will be put through? It is always a delicate situation when you enter into this relationship, so be cautious, and thoroughly vet both your intentions and those of the other party, carefully detailing the expectations, risk, and process you will go through to get to your goal. Constant communication, or at the very least, consistent communication can solve many of the problems between investors and those they invest in. A good display of action steps and goals met, and goals not met, can often times solicit positive assistance from the investors, even if their skill sets were not looked upon for guidance. Sometimes those of us deep in the trees fail to see the forest as a whole, so a clear and objective perspective from outside the daily routine are helpful. Building a relationship, and showing your work, will develop a stronger trust between you and those who invested in you.

The Ever Evil Bank, Jerry the Angel and Shark Tank

Let's face it, banks like success stories, and your product idea is still just a glimmer in your eye. Attempting to get a bank to fund an idea will typically only work if you are in a good personal financial position in the first place. And if so, they are not necessarily looking at your idea, they are investing in you, and typically it is only a loan or home equity line, tightly secured against your assets. Now, there are great options using the SBA for smaller start-up capital in the micro loan arena, but again, your personal financial statement needs to be buttoned up tight. Personally, I would not recommend attempting traditional bank financing on speculative projects. It is better to risk money you have, than money you haven't earned yet. If you do, however, find this a clean option for your development needs, just be prepared and follow the same advice I prescribed earlier by developing a strong relationship with your banker and keeping them informed.

Jerry the Angel is a weird sort. Almost too good to be true, somewhat unreachable, and always a carrot for development. Jerry's a great guy, loaded with cash, and invested in a wide range of projects, some earning, some not. You call Jerry's firm one day and begin the process of pitching your idea. Jerry's jacked - He loves it. His team wants in, and delivers to you nine pounds of legal documentation and financial scribble for you to digest. Woohoo! This is gonna happen... Well, maybe, maybe not. Let's get serious here, angel investors and similar forms are smart, diligent investors that don't leave t's uncrossed and i's without dots. They are thorough and will require you to be as well. The great piece behind angels is that they can typically fund the entire project easily and get you rolling with a small staff, resources, and capital necessary to make a success. They will, however, take a piece of the company and reduce your equity. That is a high price to pay, however it sometimes is a whole lot better than attempting to do it on your own and never realizing the success or losing the opportunity when you had it (technology kids, beware - tech moves faster than development...) Research and find the appropriate party for this type of funding. Deep pockets are not always the right pockets, and sometimes the ones that seem to be oppressive are the ones that will do you the most good. Be objective, study the interested parties well, and make a decision based on the best available resources offered without compromising too much equity or product integrity.

Swimming in the Shark Tank on TV looks like fun! That Kevin, he's funny! Beware the idea that this is an easy process. My friend Matt prepped for weeks, went on the Tank, pitched his idea, had his partner slapped around a bit, and walked out thinking they had a deal in hand. One year later and no money delivered, the deal fell through after the legal crew demolished the hope. The fortunate part was that the exposure was huge, catapulting sales and driving the business to success. While the money, and mentor ship would have been welcome, it turns out that these deals are not sealed as often as TV might suggest. Yes, there are success stories, but I might caution the starry-eyed traveler to Hollywood that the process is far more than the 12 minutes of air time you receive. Just being picked to be on the show has pretty rough odds. This one, my friends, is a long shot, but nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Hey You, Fund Me!

Kickstarter and Indigogo and Rockethub. All great crowd sourcing options. I love these platforms and they have spawned so many great success stories. This is a wave for the future and a very viable one indeed. While they are not perfect by any means, they give anyone with a smart phone and an Internet connection the opportunity to fund a project. I have spent many hours assisting folks with these processes and I will tell you that the effort to tell your story is so critical. People will buy into the story more than just the product, trust me. Be prepared to write and script the best possible pitch, have a sound product/project, and make sure you can actually deliver. Of the projects I have worked on, 3 have successfully funded, 7 have failed to fund, and 1 earned the attention of another investment group to the tune of over $1 million in funding. Now, one of the projects I assisted with funded successfully, only to have the owner of the project default on the investors and is now running scared with people after him. This is not free money (although Kickstarter assumes no liability) and should be treated seriously, and only those with the resources to deliver on promises would enter this arena. In other words, have your you-know-what together and be serious about the project.


There are many ways to fund your project. Experience suggests that as much planning into the development cycle must also be paralleled on the financial side. Whatever your course of funding, be prepared for any combination of the above to get you where you need to go. I encourage you to pursue any and all, and the best of luck and good preparation to you!

Below are some helpful links to info on some of the before-mentioned funding options:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

2. Will I be patient enough to carry through the process?

I don't know, will you?

I can tell you that the deep sigh and a prolific exercise routine are what I use to get through the long, seemingly unending obstacle course that is product development. Believing that you will avoid all of the pitfalls will only make the process seem longer, and potentially, discourage you from following through or executing tasks that you need to finish. The unfortunate result of high expectations are the incredibly demoralizing lows that you experience when it just doesn't go the way you envisioned. Patience, that all too annoying nemesis, lurks just beyond the reach of most of us, unfortunately.

Some recipes for patience I have found useful during the process:

- Exercise regularly. That endorphin rush is no trick! It will relax you and make you feel a burst of positive energy. A perfect time to combat a failure by turning it into a wonderful learning experience. Something as simple as a one mile walk might be just the elixir for an ailing project lost in the development cycle. I find I can be much more patient when my mind and body are in a healthy state.

- Limit your influences. Surrounding yourself with every new opinion on every obstacle encountered can sometimes get you into a zig-zag motion, all the while a straight line was the shorter path. Obstacles can be ran around, but they can also be jumped over! Remember the goal, and limit the plethora of friends, colleagues, and advisers that have the next best opinion to offer. While sage advice should be collected and processed, too often we see folks get sidetracked in their mission by others not necessarily connected to, or qualified enough, to give input.

- Reduce your daily tasks, and delegate. This is almost always a mental procedure that builds confidence and reduces the frustration when things go wrong. Think about it this way: Your Monday is full of tasks, stacked back to back with barely a moment to blow your nose or have a snack. In the 2nd hour of your 12 hour day, the phone rings. The project from yesterday just hit a snag. It will require you to run to a sub helping you on your product development, killing 3 hours and delaying everything on Monday. Frustration builds, and you become depressed, and fall even further behind. - Think about this - most of the tasks we load ourselves with are because we are control freaks of our babies (the product we are developing.) If we limit our Action Steps to those most important (say, three critical per day) and delegate the simpler or less critical tasks to those that surround us, we can offload some of the stress and build bandwidth to tackle those unforeseen issues that bite the ankle when you least expect it.

- Consider if you can lead this project. If you aren't patient by nature, and get frustrated easily with surprises, perhaps you need to reconsider piloting the aircraft. Sometimes self-recognition of our weaknesses can play in our favor. Perhaps finding a partner to guide the development cycle is a better option to success.

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.