ipx-034

ipx-034Follow the author's progress of taking an idea sketched on a napkin all the way to having a product in hand.Paperback copies are available here if you prefer a physical copy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Introduction

In dreams begins responsibility.

ipx-034- William Butler Yeats

You and Your Big Idea

You or your loved one has a brilliant product idea that you’ve rolled over in your mind for months, perhaps years. You might have sketched it out on paper and run the idea by anyone who cared to listen to you about it. Or, it may be such a potent idea that you’ve kept it a dark secret. You often examine a product on a store shelf wondering how it got there and if you could be successful making your own idea a reality.

When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It.

- Yogi Berra

Denial ain't just a river

- Mark Twain

The first objective of this book is to stop you making an expensive choice if it simply doesn’t make business sense. That might mean going 30% of the journey but only investing a small amount to find out if, indeed, your product idea never had legs to begin with.

Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.

- Robert A. Heinlein

The second objective is, if it does make sense to build your product, to take you all the way to producing product that a customer can buy at a level that is profitable for you. Commitment Management means not having to invest in a particular stage until you must, keeping your least expensive exit options open for as long as possible. Commitment Management is not a way to discourage you at every turn from following your dream, and I will point out the biggest ingredient of business success is persistence, but rather, it is being sensible about some of the expensive mistakes you can avoid by holding onto your precious resources for as long as possible.

It’s not too late if you start today

- Barbara Sher

We have all heard the phrase “if you could get off a ship in a storm, no ocean would ever have been crossed”. Or you might have heard about some English king or other who scuttled his ships on the coast of France so his soldiers would have to beat the French or die. With their backs to the wall, or so the story went, the English would have to fight for their lives, guaranteeing victory.

You've got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.

- Ray Bradbury

If you ask me, all that do-or-die stuff is bad advice. It’s easy for Ray Bradbury to recommend jumping off cliffs. I’m guessing he doesn’t worry about a mortgage, and he won’t be there to help you with your wings after you jump off your cliff. The rest of us mortals struggle with mortgages and grocery bills, so we have to be much more careful than rich, famous people.

I prefer the saying: He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day or the Irish proverb that goes never ask a man who’s paid off his house what the value of money is.

Most ideas we humans come up with are not viable. We hear about the big successes, the guy with the big house on the hill, how he got filthy rich, and the fledgling product that got snatched up by a multinational for a cool ten million dollars. We don’t hear about the aging retiree who wore his knuckles to the bone in a business venture that ate his retirement. Nor will anyone talk about the 90% of businesses that fail in their first year. And no one wants to hear about the collateral damage to health and relationships affected by a struggling, failing or failed start-up.

It is a good idea to test your assumptions before you commit money, not to mention your life savings, to your idea. We inventor types often lose sight of that. We follow an idea that has no right to exist because we engage in wishful thinking. Aqualocks is the third company I started and even with everything I have learned, I know there is huge, invisible risk with starting any company. Only people who have had good luck tell you there is no such thing as luck.

In this book, I underscore the denial surrounding your business idea as much as possible, and as early as possible.

Try to complete the questions at the end of each chapter. Write the answers on a piece of paper if you must, but do write them down. If you have the courage of your convictions, show the questions and answers to your significant other or someone else who cares about you. The simple act of completing those answers will help you to be more honest with yourself.

When I began this journey, I did not know all the steps I would have to take to get my PondSecure product manufactured, but I do now. From all the books I read on the subject, I probably learned about 10% of what I needed to know before I started. The experience itself taught me the other 90% and some of my mistakes were expensive. Most of my mistakes centered on not knowing the industry. Looking back at the last 18 months, I could beat myself up by saying the mistakes were stupid, but they weren’t. They were a result of my ignorance of how plastic products are manufactured. When you are green to an industry, you do not know where to look, so you look everywhere and everything looks the same. However, many important issues don’t stand out like they would for an expert in the field, so it takes the novice a lot longer to cover the same ground.

  • Despite the burden of ignorance, if your product idea has genuine merit, it is just a matter of persistence and you can learn what you need to learn to make it a success.

What does “if your product idea has genuine merit” mean? As soon as you can, you need to work out how much your product is going to cost to make and how much it is going to cost to sell. If you can sell enough of it for more than that, you have a product with merit. Let us look at some theoretical costs and sales price of your product:

  • Cost of making one unit (manufacturing): $5
  • Cost of selling one unit (ads, etc.): $10
  • Other variable costs [1],broken out per unit: $5
  • Revenue you can get from selling one unit: $35
  • Estimated net profit: $15

So, if you make a net profit of $10 on every product unit you sell, to pull a salary of let’s say, $40,000 a year, which might need closer to $55,000 when you include payroll tax and medical insurance costs, you would have to sell 5,500 units of your product at that $35 price. You would have to sell 15 units every day. That’s every one of the 365 days that are in a year. Some days people just don’t buy stuff, so other days you have to make up for the shortfall. You might have to sell 20 or more units on many days. That is just to secure a salary of $40,000 a year. It doesn’t cover the cost of growing your business to include, for example, a second product.

  • Decide what your minimum salary expectation is and work out how much you have to sell to make that figure.

Many small product businesses have low fixed costs. That is, you can avoid many of the costs that bigger businesses must incur. For example: you don’t need to rent an office, hire an office manager, or maintain laptops and servers like bigger business must. With a small, one-person business you can cut out many of the costs. If you can also cut out the need to pay yourself a salary, you may be able to continue your path to product success for a long, long time, even if it is at a much slower pace. That is why it is a great idea not to give up your day job until you have to.

  • Don’t give up your day job until you have to.

If you cut out salary needs, and remain diligent about not incurring fixed costs, your daily unit sales needs might be just one or two products a day, perhaps even two or three a week. In our theoretical example, your fixed costs might be $50 a week, so you may need to sell five units a week to cover those costs. Getting your business to break even is an incredible achievement, and proves out so much about the viability of your business. Again, if you can reach that point without giving up your day job, you will have taken most of the business risk out of it up that point

And so, the big question you should ask yourself is, Should I make the investment? That is, the investment in time and money to follow this dream of yours. When it comes to this kind investment, you must consider your other commitments in life, like spouse and family, mortgage, health needs and vacations. The answer to this big question is a function of several other questions about the cost of making your product and the cost of selling it. If no one will ever buy your product, then the “cost of selling it” is infinite and you have no business. If the costs to manufacturer it are three times what someone will pay for it, it can never be profitable and you have no business. To answer both of those questions, the former of which is a marketing question and the latter largely a manufacturing question, you need to answer other questions. For example, should I manufacture large quantities or small quantities?

How can I prove my idea will work (or not work) without spending much money?

Will I be able to sell it for a profit?

How long will it take to see the first product?

How much work and what skills do I need?

Do I have to go to Asia to make it?

How do I protect my designs?

It doesn’t take a genius

Everything in the world we want to do or get done, we must do with and through people.

- Earl Nightingale

By the time I had production quality pieces in my hands, I looked around me and saw many elements of my one-person business that were of better quality than I could produce. Although I was capable of producing a website, my website was done by a chap who was much better at website creation than I was. The different parts of my product were so finely finished, anyone who looked at them collectively thought I must have been a genius. I am not.

You will rely on perhaps dozens of other people to help you turn your idea into a success. Always keep your ears open and ask your trusted friends for their opinions and perspectives at every stage. Collect and respect a cadre of people who are interested in what you are doing and keep them abreast of developments as you progress. Get good at listening and don’t get defensive about criticism, even if someone makes you feel like a fool. An effective way of listening is to take notes as you listen. Take what they have said and use it to improve your plan, not to prove them wrong or to prove yourself right. Making your business a success is not about being right. When you have absorbed a year’s worth of contributions from the people around you, your product plan will be better than you alone could ever have made it.

What does success smell like?

Success doesn’t smell like you would think it should. The interesting and rewarding opportunities reveal their rewards “late of an evening” (as my father might put it) and in the first few months, they don’t look promising at all. They look unpromising because big things take time and you are an early stage. Those opportunities that hand over the reward early are usually a flash-in-the-pan. Remember, of course, that not all ugly ducklings turn into swans. You, the inventor must feel the value of your invention deep in your heart. Then it does not matter how ugly the duckling looks to everyone else.

When can I give up my day job?

If your idea has potential, turning it into a product is a long and difficult path, for which you will need staying power. More staying power, in fact, than you ever needed to hold down a regular job. Successful entrepreneurs think positively, recover quickly from defeat and unpleasant surprises, and no matter what challenges they face, they continue to seek a way to achieve their goals. They are not necessarily “book-smart” or have a high GPA from an Ivy League college, and they don’t take injury personally. They may have significant support from their loved ones and friends, but their real driving energy comes from within them. They are stubborn self-starters, independent thinkers who do not recoil from confusion or ambiguity, which they see as a muddy broth of opportunity. Many folks find entrepreneurs irritating because they often show irreverence for authority and the “accepted facts”. When you ask an entrepreneur not to stick his finger into the socket because of the risk of electrocution, the entrepreneur thinks first about sticking his finger into the socket. An entrepreneur’s greatest teacher is his own long history of mistakes that he sees not as reflections on his stupidity, but rather, a foundation of valuable lessons on which he will build future success.

Let the games begin.




[1] Web hosting, credit card transaction, phone, many other costs of running a business.

Chapter 1. Know yourself

The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.

- John F. Kennedy

How persistent are you?

Have you ever completed a jigsaw puzzle on your own? I went through a phase a few years back where I liked to do jigsaw puzzles. After helping my daughter with a 500-piece puzzle, I was drawn towards doing a larger, 750-piece one. I then moved on to a 1,000 piece, 1,500, 2,000 and then a 3,000-piece puzzle. I did a few more 3,000-piecers. A certain satisfaction came with snapping that next little piece into place. Some pieces almost fall into place effortlessly, others were so difficult, I was convinced the Jigsaw Puzzle Fairy was dropping pieces that belonged to a different puzzle into the unused pile while I slept. Intellectually I knew of course every piece did indeed belong to the puzzle I was working on, but emotionally there were those little frustrations that made the task all the more interesting. Overall, I found the repetitive, slow progression of assembling an image to be meditative.

A 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzle is not twice as difficult as 1,500-piece one. Yes, you have twice as many pieces, but the average number of pieces you examine before you place one is also twice. Mathematically, then, a 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzle is at least four times more time-consuming than a 1,500-piece jigsaw puzzle is. Getting my product to market felt a lot like doing a huge jigsaw puzzle; one with a lot more than 3,000 pieces of course, but the inner sense of journey was familiar.

I recommend you get a good 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and complete it. It is ok if someone helps you a little but do make the job yours. If you complete it, you have the single biggest ingredient necessary to getting your product idea to market: persistence.

Some evenings I did not want to face the never-ending task of completing my product. Other evenings it seemed like I was making such good progress, I did not want to go to bed. You will have difficulties in your product creation journey too. Some days you will be making such poor progress, you’ll feel like you’re going backwards or you’ll feel like your product will never see the light of day. Other days, you’ll see the horizon for miles in every direction and the universe will conspire to make it all work in your favor. That is the journey that is ahead of you; great speed on some days, nasty traffic jams on others and it is what everyone feels on the journey. We product creators are not divided into those who have an easy time of it and those who have a tough time. No, we are divided into folks who complete the task of creating their product and folks who do not. Difficulty is in the nature of product creation and it is difficult for every product creator I have ever met. In fact, when you reach an impasse, regard it not as a threat to your success, but rather a great way of thinning out any competition that might follow.

  • If you do not find it difficult, you have not taken on enough of a challenge for customers to be interested.

Most people will finish a 100-piece jig-saw puzzle, but few have the patience to complete a 3,000 piece one, not to mention a 12,000 or 18,000 piece one. It’s the same with creating a worthwhile product.

I never knew a man come to greatness or eminence who lay abed late in the morning.
- Jonathan Swift

How do you respond to loss?

Everyone has a preferred way of responding to the pain of loss. If you do decide to pursue your product idea, you may succeed or you may fail, but one thing is certain: you have a lot of pain ahead. So, how do you normally deal with pain? If you have ever lost someone near and dear to you, or have had other significant loss or pain in your life, what did you do to process the pain? How you answer this question is central to how you will cope on your journey to turn this idea of yours into a product. If you are the spouse of the person with the Big Idea, then answer the following question for them. In fact, if you are the guy with the Big Idea, ask your spouse to answer this following question; don’t try to answer it yourself.

Examples of loss:

-Losing a parent

-Losing a bunch of money in the stock market

-Discovering you need to go on serious medication for high cholesterol (loss of youth)

-Getting a performance review that says you have underperformed (loss of idea about yourself)

Question: How do you respond to loss? Which of the following activities do you tend to engage in when you are faced with such loss: (check all that apply)

· Head to the gym

· Head to the liquor cabinet

· Go for long walks

· Talk it out with anyone who cares to listen

· Look for a reason why someone else is to blame

· Get verbally abusive

· Become depressed

· Look for the silver lining

· Smoke cigarettes heavily

· Eat more than usual

· Draw, paint or write

· Engage in another hobby

Building a product from scratch involves, more than anything else, a lot of persistence. Your brilliant idea has never been a product and no one has ever made, sold or purchased one. The universe does not like change so it will throw many obstacles in your way along your path. Many obstacles will involve losing this or that opportunity to make your product a reality, forcing you to come up with perhaps more difficult, time-consuming or costly alternatives.

You might have the right temperament if you (or your spouse on your behalf) circled 1, 3, 4, 8, 11 or 12, because you tend to rely on healthy means of coping with loss. Healthy responses to loss make it more likely that you remain strong and willing to drive your idea forward.

  • Successful entrepreneurs look for the opportunity in loss.

How do you respond to an unpleasant surprise?

If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.

- Henry Ford

Consider the following unpleasant surprises:

-Your car runs out of gas

-You discover you’ve put on 10 lbs

-You discover there is no milk left for your cereal

-Your joint credit card bill is twice as high as you expected

-You wake up to discover you have a nasty head cold

-You cut your finger while emptying the dishwasher

-You didn’t get that promotion you expected

-Your favorite white cotton y-fronts just turned pink during a clothes wash

How do you tend to respond when something like that goes wrong? The answer to this question might not be what happens in the very first few seconds, but rather what tends to be your response about 10 minutes after the unpleasant event? Circle either 1 or 2.

a)I am angry with the person who made this happen.

b)I am looking for a way to avoid making this happen again.

If you answered b), you have a key characteristic of successful entrepreneurs: You tend to take responsibility for problems that occur and you tend to look for constructive solutions to them. If you answered a), you might have a habit of blaming others for things that happen to you and you invest your energy in unconstructive emotional relief rather than looking for a path out of your predicament.

If you are considering building your product from scratch, b) is a preferable answer to a).

If you did answer a), all is not lost. There are ways to reshape your thinking so that it is more positive.

Along the road to making your product a reality, you will be faced with countless little unpleasant surprises. The faster you come round to looking for a constructive solution to every one of them, the faster your product will reach the marketplace and the more likely that will happen before you run out of time, money or opportunity.

  • Successful entrepreneurs do not see a setback as a failure. They see it as an interesting challenge.

Cost of this stage: $0. Costs so far: $0

End of chapter exercise

This is the first chapter with questions at the end of it. Write down the answers to the following questions. Better, write them down on a piece of paper and set the piece of paper aside for the moment; we will return to it later. (Avoid writing on the book itself if you plan to sell it or give it away later).

Even if you do not know exactly what the answers are, do take a stab at an answer to each question. The purpose of these questions is not to test your knowledge; it is to get you thinking about the important questions.

With respect to reaching the significant milestone of having the first salable product in your hand:

  • How many months of elapsed time do you expect it willit take to have the first salable product in your hands?_____________________________
  • How many hours of work will you personally invest inthis before you reach that milestone? _____________________________
  • What special skills would someone need to deliver aproduct like yours? _____________________________
  • Do you expect to have to go overseas to manufacture yourfirst batch of product? _____________________________
  • How will you prevent your designs from being copiedby someone else who might then compete directly with you? _____________________________
  • What is today’s date? _____________________

Chapter 2. Put your idea down on paper

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.

- Francis Bacon

It doesn’t cost anything to sketch your product idea on a piece of paper. Or sketch out twenty variations of it. Can’t draw? It does not matter. Just scribble your design as best you can. This will progress your thinking beyond your first mental plans. Getting your eyes and hands involved in your idea and looking at your own expressions on paper will help you solve some early design issues.

For about two years before I spent a single penny on first my Aqualocks product idea, I had a notepad full of drawings of it. The notepad stayed in my car for about six months and any time I was stuck in traffic, I would reach over and doodle in it. The sketches were primitive, certainly compared with the final product, but they served a useful purpose: they removed many of the variations I had in my head, allowing me to narrow the focus to one or two general approaches.

Use color pencils to spice up your sketches by adding some rough shadows or crosshatches to them. You might not think much of the result, but it will add some depth to your idea and, most importantly, it will encourage your subconscious to get involved in evolving the product design.

Cost of this stage: $0. Costs so far: $0

End of chapter exercise:

Write down the answers to the following questions:

· How much do you think someone would pay for one unit your product? _____________________________ (for example $30)

· Name a specific person who said they would buy your product at that price: _____________________________ (for example “Joe Schmidt, my next door neighbor”)

· Write down the name of a product like yours: _____________________________ (for example “a gardening fork made by Troybilt”)

· Name a place where a person can buy that product today: _____________________________ (for example, hardware store, gas station, bazaar, only online).

· How much does that product cost today? _____________________________

· Set aside and label a binder. This is your Product Scrapbook. Add the answers from the end of the last chapter and this chapter to your scrapbook.


Chapter 3. Immerse yourself in the trade

A magazine that I got much value out of was Appliance Design. Visit appliancedesign.com to find out how to get a subscription. It turned up every month or so and every other issue had an article about designing new products that often centered on plastics in particular. Even reading articles of which I scarcely understood 10% gave me a vague sense of the problems designers face. It was in that magazine that I first saw the Stratasys 3D printer, rebadged as a Dimension BST, and sold through various Stratasys’ channel partners, that I talk about later in this book.

There is also a resource for finding components and materials, originally called the Thomas Register. They list hundreds of organizations that make and sell all manner of components, materials, products and services. Browsing companies listed in their directory, together with Appliance Design, was a great way of feeding raw ideas into my mind as my product idea was evolving. It is also a great source of parts that might serve as ingredients to your product.

Another source of inspiration for me was to browsing the hundreds of plastics shapes and objects in Home Depot’s and Lowe’s plumbing and hardware section. I have no idea what product you are considering creating, but you might be able to get some inspiration in such a home supply store.

A quick search of the Internet (try “cad newsletter” on Google) will lead you to various industry newsletters that you can apply for and get delivered to your inbox. Again, most of it you will not have much use for, but now and then, you will receive an article like The Top Ten Tricks of Plastic Injection molding or Five Must-Have Design Tools or Which is the Right CAD Program for You? This is a piece of free education.

End of chapter exercises

Q: Go to the web and apply for a magazine subscription to the catalog on www.appliancedesign.com.

Q: Look for an online newsletter about plastic injection molding or mold making. Print off a handful of articles that look interesting, circle the paragraphs of interest and hamster these little nuggets away in your product scrapbook for future reference. Make a habit of it.

Chapter 4. Search for existing patents

To overcome a fear, here's all you have to do: realize the fear is there, and do the action you fear anyway.

- Peter McWilliams

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has an excellent online patent database containing all the patents that have been granted.
  • Patents that have been applied for but not yet granted are not available for public viewing.

The USPTO website: http://www.uspto.gov

Spend some time looking for patents that might match or are close to what you have invented. It might be that someone else has already patented your idea and there is little point in manufacturing your product if that is the case. However, if you have not seen the product in the marketplace, there is a good chance that it has not been patented. Usually, and this might be a huge assumption on my part, if someone has made the significant effort of patenting something, they will have tried to market it. That is not always the case, though. Many business ideas begin well, get patented, then go out of business. An individual may have a strong patent granted to him relating closely to what you thought was your original idea.

You have several choices in that case. You can contact the person and work out what compensation they would expect for you licensing their invention, you can focus on working around their patent (or patents) and filing for your own patent based on that, or you can simply walk away from the whole idea of bringing a product to market.

If you are like me, you are already enchanted with the idea of bringing your product to market and are reluctant to walk away from it, even at this early stage. Just remember, you have not invested a penny in it yet. As you progress through the next 12 months, you will have invested a lot more time in it, and probably money too. If someone else already patented the essence of your product, you might seriously reconsider continuing.

  • If you discover at this early stage that someone else already patented your product idea, consider walking away.

There is an art to patent searching. No matter how thoroughly you search the database, there is still the chance that you didn’t find a patent that covered your invention. You can pay money to get a patent search done.

End of chapter exercise:

Write down the answers to the following questions:

· What is the title of an existing patent in the same area as your invention? _____________________________

· What year was the patent granted? _____________________________

· Imagine you discovered that your idea was already patented. Describe in one sentence an alternative design that would not infringe on that existing patent: _________________________________________ _________________________________________ _________________________________________ _________________________________________


Chapter 5. Avoid reinventing the wheel

An invention has to make sense in the world it finishes in, not in the world it started.

- Tim O'Reilly

The entire kit for my PondSecure product has ten unique parts. Six of them did not exist before I made them and the remaining four pieces I was able to buy off-the-shelf.

Build vs. Buy

A paper tiger always beats a real tiger

- Chinese proverb

The difficulty faced by many companies is whether to buy the ingredients, products or even companies they need, or build the ingredients, products or companies they need. There is a division within IBM whose sole purpose is to seek, manage and integrate acquisitions of smaller companies (smaller than IBM, that is) into IBM. They look at what IBM’s strategic needs are, and often, instead of building a computer software or hardware product, they buy an entire company to satisfy that need immediately. Buy acquiring a company and its products, they (a) reduce the risk of failing to build it themselves and (b) buy valuable time-to-market. IBM knows that it is easy to come up with a better theoretical product (a paper tiger) than one that is already on the market (a real tiger).

Even if you cannot find the exact ingredient you had in mind, you might find a piece that, if you were to make an adjustment to your product designs, you could use. Consider using off-the-shelf alternatives to ingredients in your product even if it involves making a compromise to your ideal vision of your product. Remember, your immediate objective is, at minimal cost, to decide if your product can become a reality. You can add improvements and optimizations later if you want to, when the revenue is flooding in to your company, but this is not the time to think about making a perfect product.

For the moment, though, think like IBM. Save time and money, and reduce risk by using off-the-shelf ingredients wherever you can.

It might be that you can make your entire product from existing ingredients. That is not necessarily bad. If your product is easy to make, it might mean your patent has to be strong to protect you, but that might be acceptable. It is not necessary for you to design every element of your product from scratch to patent it. Again, you can improve a basic working product later, perhaps only at that later stage involving plastic injection molding, once you have proven the market for your product.

  • Any time you have the choice to substitute an off-the-shelf element in your product for one you were considering making, use the off-the-shelf element.

Figure 1 – a fancy way of tying a cord to a wall

Case in point: I needed a way to fasten the honeycomb part of product to the pond wall. Still infatuated with my newfound competence of CAD, and yet ignorant of what it will cost to make plastic parts, I came up with a design for a piece of hard plastic that could be fastened to the pond wall and to which a cord could be attached, pictured in Figure 1. To make the mold for it might cost $5k in the United States, and each piece might cost 50 cents to make.

Contrast that to the illustration in Figure 2, an off-the-shelf solution in the form of anchors and screw-plus-hook combinations, which can are available in a hardware store for less than ten cents a set, reducing the need to make a mold.

Figure 2 – a simple off-the-shelf alternative

End of chapter exercise

· Build a rough prototype of your product with parts that are available in a home improvement store or cardboard of various thicknesses for the parts you cannot buy off-the-shelf. Tape everything together with duct tape or regular sticky tape if you need to. It’s not going to be functional of course, but what you learn from this exercise will likely help you discover some design problems you missed and may help you solve them.

· When you have completed the task, revisit every single part of your rough prototype to see if parts of it are available off-the-shelf. For example, if you had designed a new steam iron, can you break open a two-dollar toy water pistol and use the water nozzle from it as the water sprayer for your steam iron? The purpose of this is to give you some exercise in prototype improvement.

Chapter 6. Select and learn a CAD program

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

- William Butler Yeats

i confess, CAD (Computer Aided Design) scared me for a long time. I thought you had to be a genius to master it and it presented me with yet another opportunity to prove to the world that I was as thick as that math teacher told me I was when I was twelve. Still, I was determined to see if it was within my grasp, so I looked at a few PC-based CAD packages on the market. This was going to be the first expense to come out of my own finances, so I favored lower-priced CAD software programs. I looked at six different CAD programs and finally settled on a program called Alibre Design. I spent $800 on a single user license in 2004 and again, without giving up my day job, I spent enough time every evening to teach myself enough CAD to enable me to come up with a rudimentary product design. Just how rudimentary my design was, I would learn later.

Even though Alibre had the lowest licensing cost, it was because I could get up and running on it so fast that made me buy it. Before the 30 days trial period was up, I had a good idea about how it worked and how likely it was to solve my problems. For a CAD novice, I was relieved to see that I could master basic design quickly. It always feels good to learn something new.

I attended all the free online and desktop CAD tutorials that came with the purchase of the product. Their online support was responsive and someone usually answered within a few minutes of my posting a question.

I recommend you read at this stage A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young. The book was written in the early 1960s, takes about 20 minutes to read, and is still as intensely useful today as it was when it was written. As well as the value of the book content itself, it is comforting validation for us misunderstood entrepreneur types.

  • Going through every free online and desktop CAD tutorial that came with the program taught me enough to produce a rudimentary product design.

Cost of this stage: $800. Costs so far: $800