I know in my last post I promised a follow-up to "Beware the Mandarin". I'm working on it.... But like that last post, events are rapidly evolving my thinking... So I don't want to pre-maturely post :)
In the meantime, I had an event happen early last week that timing-wise just barely preceded a post from Fred Wilson on "Saying No" and I wanted to share it. For it was important (to me) in what it says about how we (I) conduct business, and how integrity is best demonstrated by living it day in and day out.
First, for those not familiar with inventors and invention marketing, let me explain that inventors get scammed more often than probably any other general class of individuals. Inventors get told by invention promotion companies that "you have a great idea. And for a small amount of money, say $5k, we will develop a marketing plan for you and you can make lots of money." Before you know it, the scammer has bilked the inventor for $10k-$20k and has sent over census data, got a design patent, and basically done nothing of any value for the inventor, whatsoever. Why? Because at the moment of conception, with stars in their eyes of how great their idea is, inventors are the most gullible. And they don't realize how hard actual commercialization is.
So, with that as background, one begins to see that unlike entrepreneurs where most VCs are saying NO, inventors get lots of people telling them YES. Telling them their idea is great. And then suggesting the inventor hire him/her to do some work on their behalf. Lots and lots of false hope gets bred and spread in the world of inventing. Crappy ideas are politely supported for reasons relating to not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, or more nefariously for reasons of bilking and inventor out of his/her life savings.
About 10 days ago, I got an invention submission from an aspiring inventor. His cover note was reasonably cogent, and he attached his invention description in the form of pictures and text. His invention wasn't a good one; in fact, it wasn't really an invention at all.
One option is to be polite and just pass without explaining why. Another option that many firms employ is to say "we'll keep it in our files, and should our priorities change, we'll be in touch." Both foster false hope, and are not helpful. We take a different tack at EIP, and when we say NO, we explain why. Perhaps that will help the inventor, perhaps not. But at least we've held ourselves to a higher standard of integrity and we're building our reputation one inventor at a time for fair dealing.
I've redacted portions of my reply, but here's what I sent him:
I don't think this invention is worth pursuing -- certainly not on our dime, and I would say not on your dime either.
It's quite obvious that a .. can ... I would expect that hundreds or thousands of people do that today. [some more text here]
I can virtually guarantee you that you won't get any patent protection, and I just don't think there is a meaningful product here that could be licensed.
I'm sorry to be raining on your parade, but I wanted to be candid that I think you have a product concept that may appeal to some consumers. But you'd have to make and sell the product yourself and focus on the design and materials. You wouldn't be able to license your "invention" to someone as there is no real invention here...
What's the moral of the story?
The inventor attached the WRONG invention to his original email. He was both mortified and heartened by our stand up response and he was impressed. So guess what: he sent his real invention to us, and we think it just might be a winner. We're taking it to concept testing and doing some patent searching.
Shading responses to be politically correct, or hiding the ball on why you're turning something down doesn't help anyone. Particularly inventors and innovators. As mom always said, "Honesty is the best policy." Boy, is she right...