I had an idea.
I was going to manufacture a children’s sock that would be adored by parents of toddlers around the world. A sock that would help new walkers stay upright.
Had I ever designed a piece of apparel? No.
Had I ever manufactured anything? No.
Had I ever put a product into the stream of commerce? No.
I didn’t let that deter me.
They say ignorance is bliss and that is exactly where I was. In bliss. Ready for an adventure in the unknown.
It turned out to be a long adventure but one of the best I’ve ever had. I learned tons about how things happen in the real world and that sometimes things don’t progress in a neat, orderly fashion as one might imagine from reading books on the subject.
Instead, once the idea is unleashed in the world, it takes on a life of its own – growing organically and responding to the twists and turns of synchronicity.
What I am going to share with you is what I discovered about turning a product idea into reality: observations, learnings, and practical tips. It’s too much to capture in just one post so you might want to follow along to get all the information.
Step 1 – Starting
The truth is that if an idea is ever to see the light of day – you must actually start. You must move past the idea phase.
This first step is sometimes the hardest but I have found an easy way to move through it: I figure out what I don’t know and then identify someone – anyone – who might have that information. And I go talk to them.
I knew someone needed to make the socks so that is where I started. I asked the question: who makes socks?
Living in a state with strong trade ties to Asia, I knew I could probably find a sock manufacturer in that part of the world so I contacted the World Trade Center office in my area and scheduled an appointment.
It turned out to be an incredibly helpful conversation.
I learned that a number of options existed:
- I could work with a trade consultant – someone who is in business to make trade connections for people. Trade consultants are usually natives in the country they represent who can connect you personally with manufacturers they are familiar with.
- I could do my own research on global sourcing sites.
- The World Trade Center could research and supply me with a list of potential options.
- I could also look for US manufacturers on ThomasNet.
At the end of our meeting, the World Trade Center representative casually mentioned that he knew of a woman who was doing something similar with legwarmers for children.
My ears perked up. She was definitely someone I needed to talk to.
Step 2 – Doing What You Need to Do to Find Out What You Need to Know
Because it is easier not to reinvent the wheel, I decided to track down the legwarmer lady. She had founded a successful company called BabyLegs and I knew she was just the person who could answer my questions if only I could have a few minutes of her time.
I made several phone calls and emails trying to connect with her. It proved to be challenging since her business was in a growth phase and she was massively busy.
So I did the next best thing: I cornered her in the bathroom.
OK, it’s not as weird as it sounds. We ended up being at an event together and, as luck would have it, I ran into her as we both made use of the facilities.
Being the gracious person she is, she readily agreed to a meeting.
Sometimes a bit of persistence and creativity is all that’s required to get the information you need.
Step 3 – How to Share
Ideas are like children. Precious. Brilliant. Beautiful.
I suppose that is why our natural inclination is to protect them. We don’t want anyone to steal them away. After all, we have labored so hard to have them and to see them grow. We don’t want to lose out on our investment.
Everyone has these fears – especially when it comes to making money.
So what do you do? Well, the way I see it, you have two options:
- You can prepare a non-disclosure agreement that you require people to sign before your share your idea; or,
- You can go on trust alone.
The decision to choose one over the other depends on a number of circumstances and you may wish to consult your legal counsel about the best route to go if you ever find yourself in this situation.
As I fleshed out my idea around the socks, I decided to go on trust alone and to freely share what I was trying to do.
My rationale was simple:
- There were other products out there similar in nature to mine;
- I didn’t want to operate from a place of fear and loss but instead, wanted to operate from a place of possibility;
- If I gave freely, then others would likely be inclined to do the same; and,
- If someone took my idea, I could always beat the pants off them through market positioning.
Granted, it’s always best to be the first one to market with an idea since it automatically gives you a leg up, but that was my rationale nonetheless.
The payoff from my approach??
I garnered a new friend and found a trusted manufacturer.
What happened next? Stay tuned for Part 2 where I cover some of the nitty-gritty (like legal stuff and product design).
If you are intrigued about pursuing ideas and making changes, you might want to check out my guide on changing your livelihood. It’s mostly about changing your work but has tons of helpful tips that just might shift your perspective.