I don’t know if it’s due to the need of affirmation from a presumed authority or whether people really meant it but I get a lot of email from people who want to know if I think their idea is a good one. Here are some sample emails:
Sally: I am in the process to manufacture some products I designed. As you are a fashion incubator, would you accept to see these different designs and tell me if you think they would be marketable (I have mainly 4 different products right now).
Tom: I have some copyrighted children images that I have created and I would like to have a line of possibly onesies for babies, or sleepwear? perhaps something else for children. In your opinion what do you think would be a good product line for children to start with?
Jane: How do you know if you should go for it? I have let fear of failure to keep me from pursuing my product idea for a couple of years. People say to trust and believe in yourself but when do you follow your gut?
There are two problems with asking a presumed authority for their opinion on good ideas. First, people who make a living answering this question (I don’t) nearly always say “yes”; need I say more? Second, it’s the wrong question. “Good” has nothing to do with marketable or profitable. Other than that lousy or good can be subjective, lousy ideas can make as much or more than good ones. Be specific. It’s better to ask someone whether an idea has the potential for return considering the costs to develop it. But I digress.
For the sake of argument, here’s a rundown for people who want an answer to the question of how to know whether their idea is a good or bad one starting with research. Searching online to find similar or related products is a given. If there is nothing else like it (be real), you should probably let it go. Everybody thinks that a wholly new product is a guaranteed whiz-bang but they rarely are, particularly in apparel and sewn products. Either they are premature, not marketable or they age. Here’s why:
- Premature: Time Magazine recently said the CueCat was an abysmal flop -and it was- but it was launched before its time. Even though the technology has yet to reach its potential, CueCats are in high demand today. A former freebie, they’re at least $20 when you can find one. If you have one, hold on to it. You may need it in a year or two.
- Not marketable: All over the web are a plethora of new products that will never return the investment put into them; the internet is a graveyard of failed inventions. Invention agencies will tell you your idea is great but the profit center isn’t in the licensing fees they may capture down the road -which is what everyone worries about. It’s in the fees they collect from you at the outset and any referral fees they may collect from a contractor who will produce the product.
- Aging: Sewn and apparel products are seasonal and trendy. Even some utility products are trendy if only because of color -how many people are buying avocado refrigerators? Much is made of uniqueness in fashion but most are following a trend. If you do come up with something wholly new and different and off the trends, it’s hard to make headway unless you’ve targeted your customer carefully and can bypass traditional selling. It is possible that by the time the greatness of your idea takes sway, the color will be out of season and the concept will be re-interpreted for another period.
Then, determining good ideas versus lousy ideas is very subjective. Time Magazine also said Crocs were a lousy idea but the millions of people who’ve bought them are likely to disagree as are shareholders of the company. There is no correlation of profit between the quality of an idea and the caliber of consumer’s tastes. The first question to ask yourself is whether you want a return for your investment or do you want to be an arbiter of good taste? If you care more about making pronouncements of good vs bad taste, get a job as a critic for a newspaper or magazine. If you want to make a profit, it doesn’t mean you have to make junky stuff to make a living but be clear on what your reasons are. Pursue design excellence because it’s a core value but not because you want to make a counter statement about what lousy taste most people have.
If someone is in the business of telling you whether your idea is a good or bad one, watch your wallet. You could lose more than you gain. Many will tell you it’s a great idea because they won’t make any money unless they do.
The solution to sorting out good ideas from bad ones is through execution. Pursue new ideas but pare your product development to bare bones. Do enough research to know whether you can trademark your product’s identity if it should come to that but refrain from spending a bundle on legal fees -or even marketing. Take orders and produce in limited quantities until your idea has proven itself or has become better attuned and refined to your customer’s wants. You don’t want to end up with 50,000 baby bib drying racks just because your mom-friends said it was a great idea and they’d buy that. You will never know if an idea is any good until you try to sell it. Try to get to the selling stage as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
One last way to know if your idea is any good is if a larger business wants to buy it from you. Most people have the wrong idea about acquisition. That’s how larger firms grow. They don’t start new concepts of their own, they buy fledging ones. Unfortunately, I think too many entrepreneurs don’t avail themselves to the opportunity and end up regretting it a few years later after the blush has faded. If they want to buy it, it means it will scale. If you turn down an offer, you’ll either need to have the wherewithal to scale yourself or be able to learn it quickly. If this should happen to you, I think you should sell under the condition that you come along for the ride in some capacity. It will be a learning opportunity to help you launch your next product idea more successfully.