Earlier this week I met with Louis Foreman, the creator, executive producer and lead judge of the Emmy® award-winning national PBS reality show, Everyday Edisons. Louis is also Chief Executive of Enventys, an integrated product design and engineering firm with offices in Charlotte, NC and Taiwan. Louis is also the publisher of Inventors Digest, the largest and oldest publication for the inventor community. I have done some writing for Inventors Digest over the past couple years, so I have known Louis for some time in a virtual, Internet sense I guess you could say. I met Louis in person for the first time when I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, taping the 10 part mini-series on innovation sponsored by the United Inventors Association. The taping was done at Louis’ headquarters in Charlotte, home to Inventors Digest, Enventys and Everyday Edisons. When I learned that he would be speaking to an inventor group in McLean, Virginia, which is in my neck of the woods in Northern Virgina, I made plans to get together with him after his presentation. Louis talked about inventing, innovation, Everyday Edisons and his new book — The Independent Inventor’s Handbook, which is a book that every inventor should read!
I told Louis that I would do a review of his book, and quite frankly I am at a loss for how to approach a review. Most of the time books that target independent inventors are either OK or good, and for the money you spend you certainly get good value. In this case, for the money you spend you are going to get extraordinary value, and even stated like that I am not doing the book justice. There is really no way to do a general review of the book and portray everything that the book will teach you. Every page is packed with great information, excellent writing and stories that drive home points that every inventor should know, and priced at about $10 this book should be purchased by, or for, any inventor.
For example, I just randomly opened the book to page 126-127. On page 126 there is a “case study” discussing the naming of the Frisbee. Did you know that the inventor of the Frisbee, Fred Morrison, originally named the product the “Pluto Platter”? Apparently, Morrison thought this would help capitalize on the UFO and flying saucer craze. Then in 1957 Wham-O acquired the marketing rights and changed the name to Frisbee. While the product languished under the name “Pluto Platter,” it really took off when named Frisbee, going on to sell hundreds of millions of units. The inventor was skeptical of the name change, but the results are what they are. Inventors are talented, creative people, but they simply cannot do everything, and this one tale explains the power of marketing and how obtaining assistance from qualified people can and does significantly help. The main text on page 126 discusses the importance of properly packaging your product, and on page 127 another naming case study, this one relating to the BlackBerry. Did you know that one proposed name for this ubiquitous all-in-one device was “LeapFrog”? Before landing on the name BlackBerry, StrawBerry was rejected because a linguist suggested the term “straw” sounded too slow. Who knows? I certainly don’t, but based on its market dominance I would say the right name was picked, wouldn’t you?
Randomly opening to another page, pages 176-177, there is another case study related to bootstrapping your invention. This comes from Chapter 7, which relates to finding money to move forward with your invention, a topic that every inventor could and should know more about. The case study this time profiles some famous bootstrappers, such as Apple Computers, Calvin Klein, Mrs. Fields, Domino’s pizza and Ben & Jerry’s. As it turns out, Ben and Jerry learned how to make ice cream by completing a correspondence course in ice cream making offered by Penn State University. They borrowed $4,000 and saved another $8,000 to turn their hobby into a business. While this story is interesting in and of itself, it, like the other case studies in the book, offers a key learning opportunity. This learning opportunity relates to the importance of knowing what you are doing. All too frequently I see inventors who think something is interesting or potentially cool, but it comes from an area or industry they know nothing about. Inventors who are successful are those who learn about an industry and understand what the needs are and how to capitalize on the existing opportunity. While simple enough to take a home study course, I think this savvy places Ben and Jerry ahead of 95% of business people. There is no substitute for knowledge, and if you don’t have it you must acquire it somewhere. Then you need to prudently and responsibly move forward in an economically reasonable manner. While losing $12,000 is not something to aspire to, if it happens you can recover from that, particularly if you saved and borrowed from family or friends who won’t charge you 19.9% interest. Planning, knowledge and financial responsibility are keys to success for any business, and in particular for inventors.
One more random page, this time pages 38-39. Page 38 discusses the Pet Rock, and what made it a success. You might be surprised to learn just how much product packaging played in the success of the Pet Rock. Even if you are not going to create something like Pet Rock, you can learn from this story. One thing discussed on page 39 is the importance of understanding just how important it is for your invention to neatly and fit into available retail store shelf space. You can have the greatest packaging in the world, but if it is not eye catching on the shelf that is a negative, but you will never even get that far if it cannot fit on the shelf. It is little things like this, and a ton of them, that make this book so wonderful. On the other side, page 39 talks about how you can do real market research on a shoestring budget, and if you flip the page to pages 40-41, you see some objective questions to allow you to begin doing your own market research. If you are honest with yourself, these questions will be extremely helpful!
Louis is not a lawyer, but rather an experienced and successful entrepreneur and businessman. He teamed up with patent attorney and author, Jill Gilbert Welytok, on this book. So throughout the book there is information from the entrepreneur (Louis) and then legal guidance (Jill) to make sure you understand the importance of such things as patents and confidentiality agreements.
Simply stated, if you are an inventor you need this book. Period! No ifs, ands or buts about it. Spending $10 for The Independent Inventor’s Handbook will give you tremendous knowledge, information and all but certainly help you from wasting money following a path that is likely to be a dead end. On top of that, even if you are just a gadget, techie junkie this book has got a lot of worthwhile information. For example, how cool is it to know that Marlon Brando, the Godfather himself, was an inventor? (see page 22). Pretty cool if you ask me! Which reminds me… Louis, can you please talk some sense into Mike Drummond (Editor of Inventors Digest)? How he can prefer Godfather II to Godfather I is beyond me. See Interview with Mike Drummond (last question).