Inventors Insider: 4 Rules for Inventing With a Partner

Resources and information for inventors and those aspiring to get a business idea to market

O'Connor Hodgson and Stacey Abrams, co-inventors of Nourish Baby and Nourish Toddler

When Lara O’Connor Hodgson came up with a unique idea for Nourish Baby–a ready-to-serve baby bottle that comes with pre-measured purified water and a baby nipple top–along with Nourish Toddler, a spill-proof water bottle for toddlers, she shared the idea with her friend Stacey Abrams, who looked at it from a different perspective and added other possibilities to monetize the product.

“When people come up with an idea, they are usually so afraid that someone is going to steal it that they don’t share it with anybody,” says Lara O’Connor Hodgson. “They are stopping themselves before they get started. If you don’t tell somebody, they can’t help you with it.”

Lara invited Stacey to patent the idea together and bring it to market. Together the team realized that their partnership ultimately was the key to their success. When inventing with a partner, you give up some control and ownership, but the benefits outweigh the risks as long as you lay out your principles early in the partnership, says Hodgson. Here are four partner principles that Abrams and Hodgson used during the invention process of their products.

1)    Life comes first. “Lara has a son and a husband, and we [understand that], no matter what, we both had lives before we became friends and business partners,” says Abrams, who serves as the State Representative for District 84 in the Georgia House. “That wasn’t going to end because we [now] have a common objective.”

2)    Respect each other’s strengths. “If you have a common understanding of your similarities and your differences, that makes all the difference in the world,” says Abrams. “While we are both hyper-competitive people, we don’t compete with each other. I’m a politician but I’m a reluctant talker. I don’t try to pretend to be the salesperson. That is Lara’s great strength. I don’t compete with Lara in that space and she respects the fact that writing is something I love and am really effective at. If everyone knows where they fit and they respect each other’s roles, that is what makes a partnership work.

3)   Be frank with one another. Sometimes inventors get so attached to their design that they shut out input. A partner who thinks differently from you will help you see the flaws in the design.  “We challenged each other to step back and think about the product,” says Hodgson, who is an aerospace engineer. In addition, the co-inventors decided not to ignore the awkward conversations about money, time, and disappointment, says Abrams. “We are obligated to tell the other person what is going on. If you don’t have the debate, you don’t get to the best answer.” Don’t let disagreements change your commitment toward working together.

4)    Have a ‘Yes! But …’ attitude. That means you need to believe “Yes! We can do this! But, first, what do we need to do in order to make that come true. Sometimes one partner will be raring to go and want everything done right away, but the other partner wants to take a wait and see attitude. Both approaches are important to have in a partnership, says Abrams.  “If you don’t have a ‘Yes! But …’ approach, you will make a wonderful product that nobody can buy because you became overwhelmed and promised but couldn’t deliver.” A good partner helps you find a balance between passion and caution.

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