I delight in my Chief Product Scout role at EIP. I get to see all sorts of new and crazy stuff just about every day. One of the puzzles I continually try to work out is: "what makes a new product concept just zing right to the top of my priority list?"
We have a finely tuned and honed process of screening at EIP, and before we start sinking any meaningful dollars into a project, it goes through a couple different gates and spin cycles. But before all that happens, it has to get past me. Don't misunderstand, this isn't a God complex post; it's an attempt to distill the learnings of the past 18 months and the past 1500 ideas that I've had the joy and pain of reviewing.
I've concluded there are two ways to jump to the top of the queue and get me so jazzed that I become a zealot in convincing my partners we gotta start the gating process. The first way is what I call "magic" -- you present an invention to me that feels like a magic trick. I just WANT to say "voila" when I demonstrate it to my partners. This requires a prototype (of course), and it requires someone who seriously knows what the hell they're doing. Someone who knows something so complex, or so arcane, or simply so unobvious that no one has ever done it this way before. And it's incredible. It's a frickin' magic trick waiting to be demo'd. A customer that sees this product on a 30-second ad spot just HAS to try this sucker out. Because it's sooooo cool. We've got 2 of those in the portfolio today (and one pending), and I can't wait to show them to you. Think P&G Swiffer -- it just magically makes the dust and dirt JUMP right off the ground and into the Swiffer. Or think the Rabbit screwpull for a wine cork -- how the heck does that work?! These are the products that just bring a smile to my face every morning and every investor meeting.
The other route is what I call elegant simplicity. It's the product you look at and say "Why didn't I think of that!" It's not necessarily obvious, but it's one of those products that you just KNOW you could have thought of if given the right moment of reflection and prodding. And just before you buy the thing and delight in the value/utility/time-saving it provides you, you curse yourself for NOT thinking of it and getting rich and retiring to multiple homes scattered across Paris, Hawaii and Jackson Hole. You need it, you want it, and you know everyone else will buy it. Products I think of in this category include Gladware (uh, CHEAP Tupperware?! now there's an idea it took a genius to think of), Spinbrush (hey, Frank, think we can make a cheap, battery-operated spinning toothbrush?), Uncrustables (Joey, c'mere, check out this PB&J sandwich without any crust! Son-of-a-BITCH, I've been making those for years!), and, of course, the all-time champ: intermittent windshield wipers (Eh, Vinnie, it ain't raining very much, what if we made the wipers PAUSE for a few seconds between swipes?). We've got a few of those in the portfolio too, and I hope you'll find them as fun as we do...
If you're a serial inventor out there, and you have a product that either possesses magic or elegant simplicity, please, make my day and bring them to me.