Productizing an idea

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InvestingGeek
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Productizing an idea

Post by InvestingGeek » Wed Nov 13, 2019 4:02 pm

Hi esteemed Bogleheads,

My wife has a couple of ideas for revolutionary (hopefully anyway) kitchen gadgets. But we're at a loss on how to turn those into actual products. I'm assuming we go to an industrial design firm to get some prototypes made and then if the testing works out, get an initial batch made and see how they sell. Anyone here with experience or ideas on how to go about getting this to market?

Thanks!

Lou354
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by Lou354 » Wed Nov 13, 2019 4:12 pm

File patent applications before describing or showing drawings of the gadgets to anyone.

renue74
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by renue74 » Wed Nov 13, 2019 4:14 pm

Depending on how complicated your ideas are, you may be able to get them designed locally and have them 3D printed for prototyping.

As with anything like this, you'll get people who say..."make anybody you deal with sign NDAs. Get a patent attorney, etc." But, even if you do that, you may not be prepared to fight a legal battle along the way to your final product. Let's say a company sees your product and starts producing them...you're prepared to file suit and spend big $?

Start small....get some prototypes made. Do some testing, focus groups, and see if it's worth pursuing to the next level....shopping around for Chinese manufactures to build your products in production and reach out to a patent attorney.

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Mullins
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by Mullins » Wed Nov 13, 2019 4:32 pm

First: Never fall in love with your idea! And never throw good money after bad.

OK, then, success is always going to be about how well the item's marketed and if there's a profitable market for it, sizable enough to make it worthwhile, where you can easily identify and reach that market. Then the rest is about its economics, i.e., healthy margins, no large capital funding needed before you see a return...

The actual item itself can be tested before its produced. Run Google ads for it and take production pre-orders. Or if it's the kind of product you'd sell to manufacturers, go to a large trade show. If it sells well, go into production. Use their capital. If it doesn't sell, refund what you got and make other plans.

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Watty
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by Watty » Wed Nov 13, 2019 4:41 pm

The first step would be to do a lot of searching to make sure that something like that does not already exist.

In addition to searching with Google look at Amazon, eBay, etc and also search for similar patents.

https://www.uspto.gov/patents-applicati ... ch-patents

Over the years I have had a couple of interesting ideas but when I looked into it other people had already thought about it.

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unclescrooge
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by unclescrooge » Wed Nov 13, 2019 5:39 pm

InvestingGeek wrote:
Wed Nov 13, 2019 4:02 pm
Hi esteemed Bogleheads,

My wife has a couple of ideas for revolutionary (hopefully anyway) kitchen gadgets. But we're at a loss on how to turn those into actual products. I'm assuming we go to an industrial design firm to get some prototypes made and then if the testing works out, get an initial batch made and see how they sell. Anyone here with experience or ideas on how to go about getting this to market?

Thanks!
The only 2 people I know who took an idea all the way to product were a biomedical engineer and a mechanical engineer who worked in product management for an engineering company.

Both of them drew up 3d designs, got patents and a working prototype using a 3d printer. One of them raised money and quit his job, the other used a kick starter campaign.

Neither of them made much money. Both are now working regular jobs.

totallystudly
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by totallystudly » Wed Nov 13, 2019 8:39 pm

Everyone is wrong. Dont spend any money on lawyers. Don't file a patent. Don't do any of that nonsense...

Go on Alibaba.com, talk to a Chinese company that makes something similar now. Chances are they can make what you are talking about or something close to it already exists. Take your specs and refine it from there.

If a product works like you want it to, sell on eBay and Amazon to see if customers agree.

Shouldn't cost more than a few hundred dollars to do this.

If it doesn't sell, it doesn't matter

Compound
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by Compound » Wed Nov 13, 2019 8:47 pm

totallystudly wrote:
Wed Nov 13, 2019 8:39 pm
Everyone is wrong. Dont spend any money on lawyers. Don't file a patent. Don't do any of that nonsense...

Go on Alibaba.com, talk to a Chinese company that makes something similar now. Chances are they can make what you are talking about or something close to it already exists. Take your specs and refine it from there.

If a product works like you want it to, sell on eBay and Amazon to see if customers agree.

Shouldn't cost more than a few hundred dollars to do this.

If it doesn't sell, it doesn't matter
Why wouldn’t you patent an idea you plan on turning into a product? Seems that skipping that step opens the door wide open for others to claim the idea as theirs.

Starfish
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by Starfish » Wed Nov 13, 2019 8:57 pm

totallystudly wrote:
Wed Nov 13, 2019 8:39 pm
Everyone is wrong. Dont spend any money on lawyers. Don't file a patent. Don't do any of that nonsense...

Go on Alibaba.com, talk to a Chinese company that makes something similar now. Chances are they can make what you are talking about or something close to it already exists. Take your specs and refine it from there.

If a product works like you want it to, sell on eBay and Amazon to see if customers agree.

Shouldn't cost more than a few hundred dollars to do this.

If it doesn't sell, it doesn't matter
This is the recipe for not making any money ever, regardless of success of the product.
Even if the product sells the market will be taken over quickly by cheaper knock offs.

focusedonwhatmatters
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by focusedonwhatmatters » Wed Nov 13, 2019 9:01 pm


randomguy
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by randomguy » Wed Nov 13, 2019 11:43 pm

Compound wrote:
Wed Nov 13, 2019 8:47 pm
totallystudly wrote:
Wed Nov 13, 2019 8:39 pm
Everyone is wrong. Dont spend any money on lawyers. Don't file a patent. Don't do any of that nonsense...

Go on Alibaba.com, talk to a Chinese company that makes something similar now. Chances are they can make what you are talking about or something close to it already exists. Take your specs and refine it from there.

If a product works like you want it to, sell on eBay and Amazon to see if customers agree.

Shouldn't cost more than a few hundred dollars to do this.

If it doesn't sell, it doesn't matter
Why wouldn’t you patent an idea you plan on turning into a product? Seems that skipping that step opens the door wide open for others to claim the idea as theirs.
The issue is that you are going to spend a lot of time and money on doing paperwork rather than working on your product. And when you get the patent, it is likely to be of limited defense against all the people that see your idea, tweak and release their version of the product.

phxjcc
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by phxjcc » Thu Nov 14, 2019 2:15 am

A very wise (and wealthy) friend told me once that "ideas don't make money, capital makes money".

IOW, at some point you will have to produce a product, market the product, and sell the product then deliver and support the product.

This will require (a lot) of capital.

File your patent, try to sell the idea and get a percentage of gross sales deal.

totallystudly
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by totallystudly » Thu Nov 14, 2019 9:32 am

[/quote]

Why wouldn’t you patent an idea you plan on turning into a product? Seems that skipping that step opens the door wide open for others to claim the idea as theirs.
[/quote]

We are talking about kitchen gadgets, not car parts. If it is a good idea people will just copycat it, patent or no patent. Just ask the forearm forklift dude how much protection his parents have afforded him. My wife actually got a kitchen gadget idea and bought a bunch to sell on Amazon. We have sold about half of them, and it's a great product, but there is a ton of competition for similar type products.
File your patent, try to sell the idea and get a percentage of gross sales deal.
People aren't going to buy an idea with no sales
The issue is that you are going to spend a lot of time and money on doing paperwork rather than working on your product. And when you get the patent, it is likely to be of limited defense against all the people that see your idea, tweak and release their version of the product
This right here.

<This is the recipe for not making any money ever, regardless of success of the product.
Even if the product sells the market will be taken over quickly by cheaper knock offs>

Cheaper knockoffs are coming regardless. There's no stopping that. My point is to not out a ton of time and money into something knowing they are coming...

bryanm
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by bryanm » Thu Nov 14, 2019 6:12 pm

I am an IP attorney working in the "kitchen gadget" space. The general flow of this process is:
  1. Make a prototype device yourself, if possible. Try it out, see if it works, tweak it. Only proceed if you think it works, and you think there is a market for it. Be sure to keep things confidential until you're ready to launch.
  2. Decide whether to pursue patent protection. Others have correctly noted that there are issues with patents, and they are not right for every instance. However, I more often than not do recommend filing for design patent protection. Costs are lower and enforcement is typically more cut-and-dried.
  3. Find a manufacturer for your product. Typically this is a Chinese company. There are a variety of "fixers" that can help you find a manufacturer. You'll want to start with a small batch to see how it sells. Costs can be significant, as you'll typically have to pay for the tooling for small-batch runs. Try to make sure they keep it confidential, but understand that this is hard. Sometimes this step occurs before filing for patent, sometimes after.
  4. Launch the product, typically on a platform like Amazon or eBay. See how it sells. Repeat manufacturing as needed.
Some here have suggested that you must file for patent protection as a first step. The main concern is that you file before public disclosure or commercialization. You don't necessarily need an NDA, but (if you plan on filing) make sure any talking you do about the product before you file has an expectation of confidentiality, and that you don't sell the product before filing. Separately, an NDA can be helpful if someone you talk to does in fact steal your idea. (This is unfortunately common for Chinese companies, and a difficult issue to deal with. NDAs are not fool-proof.)

This is general commentary, and should not be taken as specific legal advice. If you have questions you can feel free to PM me, but please don't tell me anything confidential. (I am not your lawyer :))

bryanm
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by bryanm » Thu Nov 14, 2019 6:18 pm

totallystudly wrote:
Thu Nov 14, 2019 9:32 am
Cheaper knockoffs are coming regardless. There's no stopping that. My point is to not out a ton of time and money into something knowing they are coming...
This all has to do with market size and share. If knockoffs gain a large share of a significant market, IP enforcement can be worthwhile. Yes, that is a big "if." The unfortunate fact is that our patent regime requires filing before any actual knowledge of the market can be obtained. Because filing has significant costs (in terms of time and money), patent filings are in a very real sense a gamble on your product. If your product takes off—and you have the right IP—they can be invaluable. Many people do not realize that most products unfortunately do not "take off," and that it is difficult to know beforehand what constitutes the "right IP."

shans2000
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by shans2000 » Thu Nov 14, 2019 6:43 pm

I have done this, my wife and I took an idea from concept to prototype to a successful Kickstarter to now selling on Amazon for several years with good reviews.

If the idea is genuinely unique and qualifies for a utility patent, my advise is to file for a provisional patent which is relatively easy to do and it will give you an year before filing for a full patent.

Depending on the complexity of the idea, be prepared to spend thousands of $$ and an year worth of effort before you even have a validation that there is a market for this. Go for it only if you have complete faith in your idea.

Once you have a working prototype, I will recommend highly to go the Kickstarter route. There is no better and cheaper way to gauge if a given product will have paying customers.

You will need a lot of help along the way, hire freelancers from sites like upwork.com to get it all done.

It will take a lot of marketing spend and expertise to do a successful Kickstarter and later on to sell on-line, be prepared for that.

shans2000
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by shans2000 » Thu Nov 14, 2019 7:11 pm

phxjcc wrote:
Thu Nov 14, 2019 2:15 am
A very wise (and wealthy) friend told me once that "ideas don't make money, capital makes money".

IOW, at some point you will have to produce a product, market the product, and sell the product then deliver and support the product.

This will require (a lot) of capital.

File your patent, try to sell the idea and get a percentage of gross sales deal.
I agree that it will take a fair bit of capital to take a product to market. I don't agree with the last bit about trying to sell the idea, ideas are a dime a dozen and have no value unless the idea is proven to be profitable.

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InvestingGeek
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by InvestingGeek » Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:18 am

Thanks for the replies, everyone!

Wow, I expected this to be a clear-cut paint-by-numbers process given how long our country has been in the invention business and all the SAHMs one sees on Shark Tank.
shans2000 wrote:
Thu Nov 14, 2019 6:43 pm
If the idea is genuinely unique and qualifies for a utility patent, my advise is to file for a provisional patent which is relatively easy to do and it will give you an year before filing for a full patent.
That sounds like a great option while we test the market. Also good input on Kickstarter because as others have pointed out capital is going to be a huge requirement and I bet the SBA isn't going to fund this crazy venture.

One open question still is how to get the prototypes made. The ideas are not something we can make at home - they have electronic parts with specific functions. I suppose I could/should look for parts online to see if we can cobble something together but what if that's not possible.

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nisiprius
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by nisiprius » Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:58 am

There was a great "Planet Money" episode. Listen to it or

Episode 724: Cat Scam

about the husband-and-wife entrepreneurs who developed the "Ripple Rug," a play toy for cats, that was ripped off.

Everybody has "million-dollar ideas." The notion that you can fairly easily turn a good idea into money is wrong. I've heard this described as the difference between "invention" and "innovation." Innovation is the long, arduous process of getting an idea adopted and into the marketplace. For example, it is debatable who should get the credit for "inventing" the incandescent electric light, but Edison was the one who, with his team of engineers, invented not only the electric light but the complete system of central generators, properly sized wires, fixtures, an electric meter for billing, and managed to sell the idea with street-lighting demonstration projects in Menlo Park and Brockton, and so forth.

It's not clear who deserves credit for "inventing" the radio. Marconi made technical innovations, but what got him the credit was his dogged persistence in just going out and building (and getting people to give him money to build) bigger and bigger and more powerful stations.

On a small scale, it seems obvious that to make money, it's not just important to have the idea. You can't get an idea, hand it over to someone else to do all the hard work, and pay you license fees or royalties. At the very least you have to be willing to back it with your time and your heart and your soul.

Of course you need the patent. For some reason I have the idea that the rough cost of getting a patent might be in the low five figures. Unfortunately an endless series of sad stories shows that patents are not all that effective at protecting small inventors against having their ideas stolen. Many stories that ought to end in triumph end with inventors getting bankrupted, worn out, and bitter from endless expensive patent litigation.

One of the more interesting to me was the case of Kodak's instant camera. It was pretty simple. Kodak stole key ideas from Polaroid. Even though Polaroid at that time was a big company with endless financial resources, and even though they won a $909 million judgement and an injunction that put Kodak out of the instant camera business, it took years and by the time Polaroid won, the instant camera business was dying, anyway.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness; Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

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InvestingGeek
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by InvestingGeek » Fri Nov 15, 2019 11:05 am

Good points. We will definitely temper our expectations and approach it as an adventure which may not pan out.

I will also Google around to see if something like this is already out. I know chances are it is.

bryanm
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by bryanm » Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:23 pm

InvestingGeek wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:18 am
shans2000 wrote:
Thu Nov 14, 2019 6:43 pm
If the idea is genuinely unique and qualifies for a utility patent, my advise is to file for a provisional patent which is relatively easy to do and it will give you an year before filing for a full patent.
That sounds like a great option while we test the market. Also good input on Kickstarter because as others have pointed out capital is going to be a huge requirement and I bet the SBA isn't going to fund this crazy venture.
Do be aware that a provisional application is not a cure-all. For one, the year-long duration is fairly short in a product life cycle, and often not enough time to assess market success. While they're cheaper than non-provisional (i.e., "full" utility) applications, you must still file a non-provisional within that year, and the cost of the provisional + non-provisional will be at least a bit higher than simply filing the non-provisional in the first place. So you buy yourself a year for some extra cost, but sometimes that year isn't very helpful. Timing matters a lot here.

Perhaps more importantly, provisional applications cannot form the basis for a later design patent application. Design patents and utility patents are not the same. Design patents typically cost less and are easier to enforce against knock off products. Because knock offs are a primary concern in this space, I often recommend a design patent even if a utility patent does not make sense.

I highly recommend speaking to a lawyer. Good ones will have an initial general conversation with your for free.

(Required caveat: this is not legal advice.)
InvestingGeek wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:18 am
One open question still is how to get the prototypes made. The ideas are not something we can make at home - they have electronic parts with specific functions. I suppose I could/should look for parts online to see if we can cobble something together but what if that's not possible.
You might consider speaking (confidentially) to an electrical engineer. The things you can make "at home" these days are astounding, and some one might be able to work something up.

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InvestingGeek
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by InvestingGeek » Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:37 pm

Thanks for the detailed insights on the pitfalls of going provisional first, bryanm. I might take you up on the PM for official consulting offer later once we have worked out some sort of a gameplan.

A part of me thinks knock-offs are okay as long as society is going to benefit. After all, I'm living off the ideas that others have had through human history, the vast majority of which provided no monetary benefit to the person that came up with them. This would just be giving back.

But then, my concern with premature knock-offs is dilution of the product idea resulting in poor quality early experiences that would affect adoption.

CommitmentDevice
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by CommitmentDevice » Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:40 pm

Here is the dominant narrative in the entrepreneurial circles I run in:
  • Your current idea is wrong. You probably have an insight into a customer and his/her problem, and maybe some good ideas for how to solve it. However, it'll take a lot of hard work (aka learning via iterative experimentation) to refine your idea into a viable solution.
  • Finding a problem worth solving, and developing a solution customers want is only a piece of building a viable business. You'll need an entire business model.
  • Because going from idea to startup to profitable business is so difficult (hard work + risk), even really good startup ideas aren't work very much. I heard a senior product manager argue this point just this week, saying "Facebook wasn't successful because it was the only company to think of a social network. Its success was entirely about execution."
  • Since startup ideas, even good ideas, aren't very valuable in isolation, the general consensus is that intellectual property isn't worth trying to protect early on.
My advice is to learn Lean Startup. It is considered the new, superior paradigm for entrepreneurship. https://leanstack.com/ has incredible training videos and tools for putting it into practice. The idea to startup book here is also good https://lunarmobiscuit.com/the-next-step).

bryanm
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by bryanm » Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:51 pm

InvestingGeek wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:37 pm
But then, my concern with premature knock-offs is dilution of the product idea resulting in poor quality early experiences that would affect adoption.
This can definitely happen. On the other hand, low-quality knockoffs can sometimes push purchasers to your higher quality version. A few bad reviews is sometimes enough to convince others buyers to go for the original. If the original provides a good experience and you can get some market share (like with a successful Kickstarter), low-quality versions aren't usually as big of a problem business-wise as high-quality knockoffs.

bryanm
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by bryanm » Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:53 pm

CommitmentDevice wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:40 pm
Here is the dominant narrative in the entrepreneurial circles I run in:
  • Since startup ideas, even good ideas, aren't very valuable in isolation, the general consensus is that intellectual property isn't worth trying to protect early on.
The main problem with this is that often IP isn't available to protect later. I'm not saying the advice is always wrong, but it can create major headaches in some cases. I've seen eight figure acquisitions fall through for lack of IP--not that the founders knew that would happen when they started the company.

Mako
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by Mako » Fri Nov 15, 2019 1:43 pm

bryanm wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:23 pm
Do be aware that a provisional application is not a cure-all. For one, the year-long duration is fairly short in a product life cycle, and often not enough time to assess market success. While they're cheaper than non-provisional (i.e., "full" utility) applications, you must still file a non-provisional within that year, and the cost of the provisional + non-provisional will be at least a bit higher than simply filing the non-provisional in the first place. So you buy yourself a year for some extra cost, but sometimes that year isn't very helpful. Timing matters a lot here.
I know we are going on a small tangent but to add to this, a provisional application can also be quite useless if you don't do it right. You can't just put drawings on the back of a napkin and file it, you should ideally satisfy all of the requirements for a regular application to ensure that you actually get the benefit of the provisional and don't accidentally mess up your rights. (of course you know this, this is for OP's benefit)

Patents are one of those things that, while you're allowed to DIY, you really shouldn't. It is easy to make mistakes and protect far less than you are entitled to or outright kill your rights, mistakes that no one might recognize until several years later when they are impossible to fix.

I am a lawyer and work at the Patent and Trademark Office. I'm not anyone's lawyer here (and cannot be) and this isn't legal advice, and all that.

shans2000
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by shans2000 » Fri Nov 15, 2019 4:10 pm

InvestingGeek wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:18 am

One open question still is how to get the prototypes made. The ideas are not something we can make at home - they have electronic parts with specific functions. I suppose I could/should look for parts online to see if we can cobble something together but what if that's not possible.
There are two ways that I know of - if the product is a variation of something that already exists in the market, you should contact the manufacturers of that product and check if they can create a prototype for you. Alibaba.com is where you will find Chinese manufacturers. If the product needs to be engineered from scratch, look into hiring an industrial engineer. You may find some in upwork.com.

focusedonwhatmatters
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by focusedonwhatmatters » Fri Nov 15, 2019 11:51 pm

nisiprius wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:58 am
There was a great "Planet Money" episode. Listen to it or

Episode 724: Cat Scam

about the husband-and-wife entrepreneurs who developed the "Ripple Rug," a play toy for cats, that was ripped off.
The "Planet Money" episode wasn't about how the Ripple Rug was ripped off, it was about how middlemen drop shippers were selling the Ripple Rugs at a markup. Once customers realized they overpaid, there were a lot of returns to Ripple Rug, which ended up costing Ripple Rug thousands of dollars in returns, fees, shipping, etc.

That "Planet Money" episode was from 2016. Do you know if any of the online marketplaces have clamped down on arbitrage since then? Would a simple deterrent to such drop shipper practices be to just print the retail price on the packaging?

A quick view of the Ripple Rug website shows they are now in several retail locations, back on Amazon (not Prime), and sell themselves on eBay indicating they are the original manufacturer. From the looks of it, they're doing okay.

Edited to add...
The "Planet Money" episode link above focused on arbitrage; in addition, the product itself was ripped off: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/315142
Last edited by focusedonwhatmatters on Sat Nov 16, 2019 3:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

focusedonwhatmatters
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Re: Productizing an idea

Post by focusedonwhatmatters » Fri Nov 15, 2019 11:56 pm

InvestingGeek wrote:
Fri Nov 15, 2019 12:37 pm

But then, my concern with premature knock-offs is dilution of the product idea resulting in poor quality early experiences that would affect adoption.
Crowdsourcing sites such as Kickstarter and Indigogo are known to be trolled by people looking to knock off products. These folks potentially have greater manufacturing expertise than you and can get to market quicker. Exercise caution if this is of concern to you and your product idea.

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