How to Fail at Launching a Clever, Novel Consumer Product!

by: Geoff Ficke

How to Fail at Launching a Clever, Novel Consumer Product! 

The current economic malaise has created a surprising level of interest from entrepreneurs keen to launch a bevy of assorted consumer products. Our Marketing Consulting and Product Development firm is reviewing more submissions than we have seen in years. Every product category from Sporting Goods to Health and Beauty Aids to Fashion and Jewelry and everything in between seems to be drawing inventors seeking to launch their creations.

This article is being written with a bit of a sense of frustration. As a Mentor and Professional Consultant it frustrates me to no end to review truly interesting Consumer Products and opportunities and then to realize that the project will go no further, ever! Why do I make such an absolute statement? Because the owners are sloppy, or are dreamers, or naïve or seeking shortcuts that always insure failure. Here is an example.

This week we reviewed a new concept for a revolutionary Golf club. The submission was an interesting tease. We love Sporting Goods, and novel Golf Products especially, are always in demand. The written description held out the possibility that there were some truly unique Features and Benefits attached to the proposed club design. We organized a conference call with the Inventor. 

On the call, after the introductions were concluded, we asked for a verbal Executive Summary (an elevator speech) briefly describing the new Golf Club and its design variants, the cues that made it different from Golf Clubs we all know.

The Entrepreneur and his partner were dispassionate, almost clinical in describing their novelty. Our first mini-red flag popped up. 

I then walked the designers through a series of fairly standard questions that we utilize to understand where the project stands. These included the following: 

Do you have 3D CAD art?
Do you have engineering plans?
Have you submitted the design to the USGA for approval?
Do you have a prototype or plans to make test units?
Do you have a source to manufacture the Golf Club?
Do you know the cost to tool or create molds?
Do you know the Cost of Goods?
Have you tested the concept to prove play benefits?
Do you have a Business Plan?
What is your goal for Harvesting a Financial Benefit from the product?

The answer to each question, except the last, was exactly the same. No! The answer to the final question was the standard “we want to sell, or license or partner in order for someone else to commercialize this idea we have”.

The project submission document seemed to have some legs. If the described design really worked this could have been an interesting opportunity in the golf industry. But the owners had conducted none of the crucial due diligence required to successfully license, fund or sell a product or project. They did not have enough commitment to invest themselves in the program. They were all too keen to involve others. This insures failure.

The first clue that this group was not serious was their demeanor while initially describing the Golf Club. It was cold. There was no passion. Listening, my team did not sense that they possessed any real excitement about the club. Successful entrepreneurs have a real sizzle for their ideas and concepts. This is always an obvious tell. This group was simply looking for an injection of money.

The series of questions I asked are standard boilerplate. No matter what type of project you are developing you will be confronted with these sorts of queries (with minor tweaks) and you had better have the answers. If you do not have the answers, or need to find the answers, professional help is always available to lead the way.

Let’s examine the answer to the last question. This is the key. Harvesting a financial benefit from a project only happens to those willing to fully commit their time, energies and resources to a campaign. Filing for a Patent is not a Business Opportunity for Investors. Most Patents are never commercialized. This opportunity fell on the sword of laziness and lack of effort.

Decision makers (i.e. Venture capital, Investors, Merchant Banks, Strategic Alliances, Partners, etc.) are looking for projects and owners that will run through a wall to insure that their product receives every consideration. If it was easy to launch a Business Opportunity everyone would be doing it, and they are not.

If you seek and require professional consideration, do not take shortcuts. Do not guess. Get the facts and needed details. Support your assumptions. Be prepared to fight. The competition is spirited and only the truly gritty win.

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money. After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance. Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (www.duquesamarketing.com) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.
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