Inventor, entrepreneur, and TV personality Lori Greiner started with one idea (an earring organizer) and turned it into a multimillion-dollar international brand. Today she is regarded as one of the most prolific inventors of retail products, having created over 400 products and holding 115 U.S. and international patents. Known as the queen of QVC, Greiner also serves as a celebrity judge and investor on ABC’s Shark Tank, an entrepreneurial competition-based reality show.
Greiner believes that minority and women entrepreneurs entering the marketplace today have a leg up, “because there are some wonderful corporations with initiatives available that are designed specifically to help minority and women entrepreneurs—Walmart being one.”
For promising inventors, Greiner points to QVC Sprouts, a bi-weekly contest. Products that win will be shown on QVC. Sprouts (www.qvcsprouts.com) gives inventors who have a retail-ready product the opportunity to have their product selected and placed on the QVC website for two weeks along with products from other contestants. Winning products are then sold on QVC. The voting period allows both the inventor and QVC the opportunity to judge consumer interest in the new goods. Launched in March 2012, the program is a great entry into multiplatform retail for entrepreneurs and inventors who have a unique product, but not the operational infrastructure that is required of a traditional QVC vendor.
For budding inventors and entrepreneurs, determine if your concept is really right for the market, it is very important that you do your own market research, says Greiner. “Ask people what they think of your product concept or business—would they utilize it, purchase it? Do they think it’s a good idea and do they need it?”
For the startup inventor, how much capital is needed before seeking angel investors or equity partners all depends on “what you can afford, your business plans, and how things are going,” Greiner explains. Meaning, “If things are going extremely well, you may not need to bring in other investors. If profits are good enough that you can roll over the funds to keep the business going. If the business is growing too fast, then you may need outside investors to fund the growth.”
On Shark Tank, Greiner uses her own criteria when considering a product and partner. “Is it something people need or want? Does it appeal to a broad cross section of people? In a partner, I look for someone that has drive and passion and who is willing to put in the long, hard hours to make the business thrive. I ask: “Are they sharp, smart, and most importantly, someone I would enjoy working with.”
Here are Greiner’s top 5 tips for aspiring inventors who are bursting with ideas:
1. Make a sample of your product idea.
2. Conduct market research to find out if people besides your family members and friends like your idea and would buy and use it.
3. Find the best resources available with as little expense as possible and cost it out.
4. Don’t invest in space or inventory before you have sales or before you do market research to know that your product or business model is viable.
5. Be careful not to fall so in love with your product that you don’t hear the honesty of what others have to say about it and learn from their feedback.