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Not All No’s Are Created Equal

When a new student joins inventRight, he or she is paired up with a personal coach who will hold their hand through our 6-month "boot camp" journey. The end goal, of course, is to obtain a licensing agreement for their product and to leave us with the knowledge and confidence to pitch future products quickly and effectively.

When inventRight cofounder Stephen Key was my coach, one of the first things he told me was, "Ryan, you have to be prepared to get the no's." Of course, Stephen was spot on!

As I pitched my product — eventual viral sensation Woof Washer 360 — the no's came in droves. I heard it over, and over, and over again. Now that I'm a coach, it's no wonder that I also start every new student introductory call stating exactly what Stephen told me all those years back: "You have to be prepared to get the no's."

If you have followed us for any length of time, you've likely heard the story that I created the Woof Washer 360 as a child and licensed it approximately 20 years later. No, I'm not suggesting you pursue your product for 20+ years. What I am recommending, however, is that when you know you have a winner, you never give up!

Conversely, when you have a stinker, know when it's time to fold.

I was rejected countless times over the course of many years. So, how did I know I had a winner when the market was telling me otherwise? That's simple. I quickly realized that not all no's are created equal.

I've never been one to have difficulty getting my sell sheet in front of companies and into the hands of decisions makers. I created a strategy to contact potential licensees via LinkedIn and email, and it's always worked flawlessly.

(You can read about this strategy in Stephen Key's new book, Become a Professional Inventor: The Insider's Guide to Companies Looking for Ideas.)

After submitting a sell sheet to a potential licensee, there are only three possible outcomes:

1) They ignore you and you never hear back from them.

2) They reject your product.

3) They engage you in some level of conversation about the product. 

Any feedback you receive will typically come via email. (Hopefully it's #3.)

A 'no' or rejection typically looks something like one of the following:

"Great product, but it's not a right fit for us."

"After reviewing with our team, we have decided to pass on this opportunity."

Unfortunately, these are canned responses. Meaning, a simple and professional way to tell you that your product really isn't very good. Sometimes, however, a company will choose to engage you in conversation. No matter how slight that engagement may be, this is what we call "initial interest."

Some examples of "initial interest" are:

"This is unique, what are you looking to do with it?"

"How many do you have in stock?"

"Tell me more about this."

No matter how insignificant the question may be, I recommend answering it very briefly via email and suggesting to the contact (on that very same email) that the two of you set up a phone meeting to discuss further.

This is where things start to get very real and very interesting quickly. Ultimately, after a series of events and thorough evaluation, the interest may diminish. Over the course of several weeks or months your product may eventually be declined. You will ask yourself, "What happened? They were so interested, why did they suddenly get cold feet?"

These feelings are valid. You may go through this emotional rollercoaster, as was my experience with Woof Washer, many times over before licensing your product.

What I want you to recognize is that the weeks and months of back and forth with a potential licensee, regardless of the final outcome, is a very good sign that you have a marketable product. The writing is on the wall: You likely have a winner. You must put yourself out there and go through this exchange over and over again until a company decides to offer you a licensing agreement. If you choose to curl up and accept defeat, you most certainly will be defeated.

On the contrary, if you consistently receive versions of canned rejections like, "After reviewing with our team we have decided to pass on this opportunity," it's likely time to move on to a new idea. Failure to receive what I have outlined as initial interest after many months of pitching is an obvious sign that your product and/or marketing material likely needs to be significantly altered, if not dropped all together.

Are you regularly getting quick and hard no's without any explanation why?

Or, are companies rejecting your product after it has gone through vigorous internal reviews, market research, manufacturing feasibility, and meetings with buyers, all while keeping you informed of their findings?

If it is the latter, you must understand that your product was on the cusp of receiving that elusive contract.

There are numerous considerations which must be evaluated before a company licenses your product. If you have made it that close to the finish line, it was likely something very minor that didn't quite line up for the licensee to make the investment in your product.

The no's will come. That is a guarantee. Please look at the broader picture and have clarity about the type of 'no' you are actually receiving. Carefully evaluate your next move because not all 'no's' are created equal.

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