03/18/14

Getting Your Invention Off the Ground—Business Fuel Podcast #70

Listen to our interview with Dr. Tamara Monosoff

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Although the title of her upcoming book is The Mom Inventor’s Handbook, anyone trying to take a new invention to market will benefit from the insight Monosoff shares about going to market, financing your early stage business, and where to find the resources you need to get prototypes made and finished products manufactured. Between her book and our interview, I’ve found her to be incredibly generous about sharing the lessons she’s learned over the years—and can wholeheartedly recommend her book for any inventors, moms or otherwise.

Check out the podcast and you’ll get really excited to read the book. Guaranteed.

Readable Transcript

Introduction: Information you need, the podcasts you trust, this is the PatrickWiscombe.com podcast network.  Bringing you interviews with top business professionals and business financing tips to fuel your American dream.  This is the Business Fuel Podcast heard exclusively on Lendio.com.  And now, here are your hosts, Ty Kiisel and Patrick Wiscombe.

Sponsorship:  This podcast is sponsored by Lendio.com.  The online source you need to find the right business financing to grow your company.  Check them out for free at Lendio.com to get your business growing right now.

Patrick Wiscombe:  Serving over 355,000 people, this is the Business Fuel Podcast.  Good morning, I’m Patrick Wiscombe.  Thank you for tuning us in and taking us along wherever and however you’re accessing the podcast which you can pick up on Lendio.com/blog every single Tuesday morning.  You can also pick it up on iTunes just do a search for Lendio.  Coming up on today’s podcast, we’re going to be speaking with Dr. Tamara Monosoff.  She’s the author of 5 books.  We’re going to be talking about her book, The Mom Inventor’s Handbook.  We’ll get to her in a second, she’s going to join us from just outside San Francisco.   But first, let me bring in the producer and co-host of the podcast, Ty Kiisel.  How are you?

Ty Kiisel:  I’m doing really good.  How are you?

Patrick Wiscombe:  I’m doing really well.  I decided to promote you a little bit.  I’m hitting you cold on this.  If people want to follow the adventures of Ty, just go to Facebook.com/TyKiisel.

Ty Kiisel:  And you will be “wowed.”

Patrick:  You have that picture of you when you had that unfortunate accident.  You know that little face boo boo?  You know maybe I shouldn’t bring that up.   But you did post it, so it’s there for all the world to see.

Ty:  Yeah, probably shouldn’t have posted that.

Patrick:  And you can also follow me on Facebook.com/PatrickWiscombe.  Let’s get to the main feature here, Dr. Tamara Monosoff.  The name of the book is, The Mom Inventor’s Handbook.   Was this your invention, the bread slicer or the crustless bread?

Tamara Monosoff:  That was not my original invention.  My original invention was the TP Saver which prevents kids from pulling the toilet paper.  Much more glamorous.

Patrick:  Was that yours?

Tamara Monosoff:   Yes. That was almost a decade ago.  And then you’re talking about Good Bites Sandwich Cutters.  So what we ended up doing under the Mom Invented brand, we ended up licensing other mom’s inventions and that was another woman’s invention.

Patrick:  I was already excited to talk to you.  Some of your other books are: Your Million Dollar Dream,  Secrets of Millionaire Moms, The One Page Business Plan, and How Hot Is Your Product?

Tamara:  That’s right.  And what’s interesting is the Mom Inventor’s Handbook was actually my first book. It came out in 2005.  This is the new, enhanced, interactive book.  The whole world has changed in the last 10 years.  When McGraw-Hill asked me to look at the book and update it, I realized I needed to change the whole book because Google hadn’t even been created yet.  Everything has changed, so I’m pretty excited about this new book.

Patrick:  What excites you most about business right now?

Tamara:  I love creating things from scratch and innovation.  It gives me energy, actually, when I’m speaking to other entrepreneurs and I see them creating.  There’s nothing more exciting than taking an idea out of your head and turning it into something real.  That just thrills me.  So not only do I love teaching people how to do it, I have spent a decade sharing my learning experiences, my mistakes, learning from others and I put everything into this book.  The other thing that thrills me is that I have 50 entrepreneurs that used the first edition of the book to bring their products to market.  And now they are featured in this new book.  I’ve included QR codes and they’ve all provided personal messages to the readers.  I asked them not to sell their products in the videos, but to show the readers they’re just like us in that they’re struggling through it all.  So they shared in the videos the biggest challenges they’ve had to overcome, the biggest rewards, something that surprised them about going into business, and a piece of advice.  These videos add a depth and a richness about these entrepreneurs you have put all their hearts into their businesses over the past few years.   Now they’re here to help and cheer others along the way.

Ty:  You know Patrick, Tamara is a pretty impressive woman.  She was in the Clinton White House, did you know that?

Patrick:  Yes. I forgot to bring that up.  What did you do in the White House?

Tamara:  I had three different roles over three different years.  It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life.  In fact when I left my job there, I thought, “How can it get better than this?”  I was really actually worried that I wasn’t going to find something that I was as passionate about.  But I was the Education Director for the President’s Commission on Fellowships.  You may be familiar with that.  It’s a leadership program.  Colin Powell was in that program.  Sanjay Gupta, the CNN medical correspondent, was in the program.   And General Wesley Clark also.  So it’s a leadership program where you bring in leaders from all over and expose them to even higher levels of leadership.   I was also on the President’s Initiative on Race.  And then I was asked to be Chief of Staff in the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of Adult and Vocational Education.  So it was a whirlwind and it was fabulous.

Patrick:  So you were there for 3 years. Was it the first or second term?

Tamara:   Second term.

Patrick:  The most famous person you have on your speed dial is who?

Tamara:  My mother.

Ty:  That is awesome.  I love that answer.

Tamara:  Really.  She is the one who’s given me the courage to step out into the world.  And I think mom’s need to receive credit for that.  After being in the White House and then having my first child, it was a shocking experience for me.  Because all the sudden I realized that I was out there and then all the sudden I’m changing diapers and I had no idea how to do that.  It was a massive shock and transition.   So then when I had the idea for my product, of course I’m a researcher, I went to buy the product at the store and of course, it wasn’t there.  So that inspired me to figure out how to create it.  I was looking for resources and of course 10 years ago you type in “mom entrepreneurs” and there was nothing.   So as I was taking my kids to machine shops trying to figure out this process, I realized there was this whole untapped market of intelligence out there.  And we needed to have a road map for people.  Now of course 10 years later, I’m helping everyone, not just mothers.  This book is relevant for absolutely anyone who has a product idea and they want to take it through the process and get it onto store shelves.

Ty:  That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about talking about this.  I’ve got at pdf copy of the book.  Is it published already?

Tamara:  It’s launching on April 1st.  I’m so excited.

Ty:   One of the things that’s really exciting to me is the advice you give is that it’s real world.  It’s not esoteric. It’s very matter of fact.  In a previous conversation, you gave me 10 tips for product entrepreneurs.  I’ve pulled out the ones that I think would be interesting to talk about.  If you don’t mind, let’s dive in.  I’d love to share your insight on this.  And this could be any kind of product.  You talk about to patent or not to patent.  Can you share your thoughts on that?

Tamara:  I feel like this is one of the biggest mistakes.  We have this belief that the very first thing that we have to do when we have a product idea is to rush out and get a patent.  But in fact, the very first step needs to be marked research.  You need to figure out if people need and want this product and if you’re going to be able to sell it before you rush out and get a patent.  So what happens is you go and get a patent and then you change and modify your product to improve it, which of course you should.  But then, you’ve invalidated your patent.  So it doesn’t make sense.  It needs to be the reverse.  There needs to be big picture, market research, let’s look at your market size, and that’s where most entrepreneurs stop by the way.  So let’s say you have a pet product and there’s 77 million households that have pets.  Most entrepreneurs say, “Whoa, that’s enough for me.  Even if I get a tiny percent of that, I’m happy.”  And I say no, that’s not good enough.  That’s great that you know the big picture.  Now you need to bring it all in and start interviewing people, do surveys, and start figuring out  if people are experiencing the problem your product is solving.  And then come up with that market data, until you are so sure that you can make money.  The other thing I teach is you need to be able to estimate your product pricing for manufacturing before you create it.  That sounds like, “How do I do that?”  Well, I teach you how.  This was a process that evolved and created over time because I needed myself to figure this out.  So I’ve taught you how to estimate your product pricing before production.  You need to know that before you go and create this thing.  Then when you have the best design possible, then you can think about protection that you may need.  Some products can’t be patented.  There are thousands of products out there that aren’t patented.  You need to make sure you aren’t infringing on someone else’s patent.   In fact, I’ve had strong patents that have been knocked off.  So really it’s about being aggressive and getting your product out there and being aggressive in selling your product.

Patrick:  What’s the most effective way to go about deciding if your product is necessary in the marketplace?

Tamara:  I’m so glad you brought that up.  Everyone says to go out there and do your market research and I’m thinking, “Ok, how?”  That’s what I dedicated chapters 1 and 3 to in The Mom Inventor’s Handbook.  I’ve broken the process down step by step just as we were discussing.  Entrepreneurs need to take advantage of this – you need to find companies that are making similar products.  They have to be public companies.  Because if you can find public companies that are making similar items, they need to produce an annual report for their investors and shareholders.  You can go on their websites, click on investors, and find those reports.  They have had people dedicated to doing market research and you can learn so much from their information for free.  Not only about market size, but about trends going forward because they’re speaking from experience selling.  Amazing resource right there at your fingertips for free.

Ty:  This is one of the reasons I love this book is because this is the kind of information you are sharing.  One of the other things that caught my eye was, “Make it simple.”  As people, we tend to complicate things.  Can you speak to that?

Tamara:  We tend to want our product to have every feature imaginable.  And I understand because we get excited, but that can be a mistake.  Let me step back, that’s great as part of the brainstorming process, you want to have that expansive thinking at the beginning.  You want to think of every possibility and then you want to bring it in.  That’s something you need to find out with your market research too.  When you start talking to people about it, and that’s something I teach you, you’re going to be asking people questions about those features.  What are the key features you see right now that you have to have in order to buy this product?  And what are the ones you can live without?  Every time you add a new feature to your product, it increases production.  I’ve seen it over and over again where people produce these amazing products.  However the cost of production it too high, which makes the retail price too high and consumers in the end won’t purchase it.  So you have to work backwards.  What will people pay, and how much would be too much so you have a range.  And then you work backwards to you production costs to see if there will be enough margin left over for you. The idea is to have expansive thinking in the beginning and then bring it all in and to let go of the features you may love but might not be as important to other people.

Patrick:  Generally speaking, when it comes to profit margins, how much do you like to see?  Maybe in a range.

Tamara:   Production costs should be 1/5th of your retail price.  So that’s how I work backwards.  So anywhere between 30-50%.

Patrick:  Do you like going through retail channels or do you like selling stuff online?  Or do you do both?

Tamara:  You have to be careful about that.  When you sell online, you don’t want to compete with the retailers.  Retailers do not like it when you’re selling online unless you’re selling for a higher price.  When you sell retail, they have such a wider distribution compared to when you’re just selling on a website.  I always say to go for it, get into retail.  But one of the missed opportunities that most people don’t think of are catalogs.  One of my biggest orders for $100,000 came in from a catalog I had never heard of.   So I have a list of top catalogs in the U.S. and their contact information and their LinkedIn buyers and VP’s of merchandising.   I’ve created these lists because I needed them so desperately myself.  So Ty, I think that’s what you’re talking about.  I always give the information I get and I don’t hold anything back.  That’s one of the things my students are always blown away by.  And that’s what I did with this book too.  I give as much as possible because why not?

Patrick:  Some would say that is the secret sauce in how you make your money.  I can also understand the argument against it, so I’m surprised you give away that kind of information.

Tamara:  If you’re generous and you give everything, and I do, like the entrepreneurs in this book.  When I invited them to be in this book, I invited them to be generous and share their resources.  Do you know how hard it is to find factories?  Factories that you can trust, that can take so long.  So they have shared their factories, their engineers, and prototype developers.  Those resources are in the book.  Also, it took me two years to land an account with these distributors for grocery stores.  You can’t even find them on Google.  I put that all in the book.  I gave the names.  People don’t even realize what they’re getting.

Patrick:  I’ve got to be honest, that’s pretty impressive.  Maybe I’ll change my philosophy and start giving stuff away.  Start giving my knowledge away.

Ty:  Patrick, I totally believe in this concept, that’s why we do the podcast right?  You mentioned finding prototype engineers. I imagine most of these folks reading your books are not engineers and don’t have the native skills to do an injected mold prototype or a machined product, how do you find that stuff?

Tamara:  In the book is a whole list of current, relevant people who do those things.  There are resources like Thomasnet.com where you can find developers in the U.S.  At Mfg.com you can resource manufacturers.  Alibaba.com is to find factories over seas.  Those websites are like directories where you can find people.  But in the book, there are factories, prototype developers and engineers that entrepreneurs are currently using successfully right now.  You need to find the one that makes the items you are using.  We have prototype developers that will make steel molds and plastic parts.  I have textile developers as well as formulators, that’s a new one.  If you’re creating a vitamin, or pet food, or regular food, or a hand sanitizer, you need formulators who are chemists to help you come up with a recipe that won’t spoil.   One woman in the book created Spoonful of Comfort.  It’s essentially chicken soup that she sends out.  Her mother was extremely ill with cancer and she didn’t want to send her flowers or chocolate.  So she thought she would send her mother soup that had brought her comfort when she was a kid.  It brought her mother comfort and she died shortly thereafter.   So she decided she want to create a company called Spoonful of Comfort and she ships chicken soup all over the country.  Her interview is incredible because she shares her struggles.   She had no idea how complicated it would be to ship soup.  There are all these restrictions about shipping chicken across the borders of different states.   She had to hire a professional to deal with all the restrictions about shipping chicken over state lines.  These are the stories that are included in this book that are just remarkable.

Patrick:  Let’s point people to the website right now.  It’s TamaraMonosoff.com.  Can you pick up all the books there?

Tamara:  You can.  And what’s really exciting too, I’ve created a workbook that I’m going to be giving away.  It’s The Ultimate Workbook for Entrepreneurs and it’s a companion to the Mom Inventor’s Handbook.  People can click on the green button and they can sign up for a digital copy of this handbook for free for the month of April which is our launch month.

Ty: I love your book.  And it’s because of information like this that I do.  However, I have another question for you.  My wife thinks that I’m a cute guy.  But she’s probably the only one that thinks that and I don’t necessarily have the face for video.  But you encourage your entrepreneurs to get on camera.  Talk about that a little bit.

Tamara:  I have to give credit to Lou Bartone.  He is an expert who teaches video marketing.  I interviewed him for this book and he gives some fantastic tips.  First of all, YouTube is number one in terms of social media.  You’ve got to get video out there.  You just have to.   You don’t have to do direct to camera.  I too prefer not to be on camera.  The truth of the matter is you just have to get over it.  Because then people connect with you.  As long as you’re being authentic, people fall in love with you.  Especially if people look a little scared, and they did it anyway.  That’s what I love about the women featured in this book.  Going on video was hard for a lot of people.  But you can do a lot of things off camera like using animoto where they put pictures together into a video.   One thing product entrepreneurs have to do is create a two minute of less video of them demonstrating their product and then get that all over the internet; YouTube, Twitter, Facebook.  It show people what they’ve created and how it works.  It’s going to create sales because once you understand it, you want to have one.

Ty:  YouTube is now a bigger search engine than Google.  The most shared media on the internet are photos and videos.  I 100% agree.  You’ve got to be creating videos.  Something that’s close to our heart because it’s what we do around here, is match small business owners to financing.  You’ve got a pretty interesting chapter on how to find money.  It’s relevant because an entrepreneur going into a bank might not have what is required.  You list a dozen or so different finance options.  You lead off with crowdfunding.  Let’s talk about that just a little bit.

Tamara:  When I started 10 years ago, it was really hard.  Now with crowdfunding, it just thrills me that people now have this opportunity that they can jump right in and put themselves out there.  I also say that you’ve got to pick your crowdfunding platform carefully and make sure that it’s the right environment for your product.  I also think a lot of times people overlook microloans through non-profit organizations.  I myself received a microloan for $25,000 and I think what’s interesting is that it’s their mission to support you as an entrepreneur.  They want you to succeed so they often offer resources and classes.  TMC Working Solutions is where I got my loan.  Kiva is a new one in the U.S. in partner with TMC Working Solutions.  There’s lots of amazing new options for entrepreneurs.

Ty:  You talk about savings so lets talk a little about that.  And tell us about SmartyPig.

Tamara:  I love SmartyPig.  I have an account now and so do my kids.  What I love about it is that you’re spending money that you’ve saved instead of going into debt for it.  Let’s say you need $1,500 for a new computer.  You create a SmartyPig account and it links to your bank account then you decide how much is withdrawn every month.  Then without you even thinking about it, your account is building up your savings and there’s a pig that turns pink and it has a percentage.  It gives you energy and you want to keep going until your pig is 100%.  It’s a great way to set goals for yourself and use savings instead of other money.

Ty:  I like the idea that you don’t have to necessarily borrow money sometimes to make this happen.  Sometimes a big small business loan could be the death knell to your idea.  We talk about 3F loans, “friends, family, and fools.”   Talk about friends and family.

Tamara:  It’s complicated with friends and family.  On the one hand, they’re your biggest supporters.  It can get very difficult though if things don’t go as planned.  Suddenly you’re at the family BBQ and you’re feeling very uneasy.   That’s why crowdfunding is such a great option.  But back to friends and family,  go to a website called ZimpleMoney.com.  It helps you formalize your loan.  They’ve got free forms you can download even if you don’t use ZimpleMoney.  Put terms on the loan even if they’re free and flexible.  It just makes everybody feel better if it’s in writing.

Patrick:  Would this be equivalent to LegalZoom in the form of a monetary agreement?

Tamara:  Yes.  And LegalZoom is a great resource as well.  It’s just about making sure everybody feels comfortable.  If you are going to have an interest rate attached to the loan, write it down.  What are the terms?  Get it all in writing with your friends and family because it’s going to feel clean.  You want to keep your relationships and communication good.

Ty:  The last thing I want to talk about in this category is grants, contests, TV shows, those kinds of things.

Tamara:  I’ve had a lot of people tell me it’s simple.  For example, one lady won a contest Anderson Cooper was having and she won $10,000.   Another one sent out one email and she won $5,000 on another show.  I’m not saying this is the way to go, but why not, just throw it out there.  You never know what’s going to happen.  There are grants and it’s free money so there will be more applicants.  I always say, “Go for it. Try everything. This is your business and it takes creativity.  You’ve got to do multiple things.”

Ty:  The last tip on your list is, “Celebrate the wins.”  Tell us about that.

Tamara:  There’s so much work to be done, you tend to overlook the little successes.  I have a huge white board with a lot on it and I love when I can mark something off it.   Just take note of what progress you are making.  Sometimes we can get so bogged down that I think it’s important to celebrate and incorporate that into building your business.

Patrick:  Let’s have an honest moment here, do you ever add anything to the white board just so you can check it off?

Tamara:  No.  If you look in the book on the “praise for” page, there’s a woman named Karen and she created something called Swagger Tag which are tags that go on your luggage.  She said, “Someone gave me your book and I thought it was just going to be more fluff so I put it on my shelf.  Months later I pulled it out and how wrong I was.”  She was immediately able to take it and get to work.  Everything that goes on that white board is an action step.  What can move things forward?  What will move you forward every single day?  Even if it’s a little step, keep moving forward.

Patrick:  As you look back over your life; White House, author, mom, what are the biggest accomplishments that you consider successes for you?

Tamara:  I’ve never been asked that question, so thanks.  I’ll be honest.  I’ve been with my husband for 27 years and my kids.  It really goes back to more personal achievements.  My kids are inventive and writing books, they’re creating products, they give me feedback on everything.  They are fully engaged and that thrills me.  As a parent, don’t feel guilty about creating a business.  Involve your family.

Ty:  Thank you so much for being on the podcast. If you’re interested in creating products, read this book, whether you’re a mom or not.  This has got some great information you’re not going to want to miss.

Tamara:  Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Patrick:  One last thing, when did you realize sharing your information was a good thing?

Tamara:  At the beginning you’re really worried everyone will steal your idea.  I remember asking people what factory they used and they wouldn’t tell me.  People would not share.  Even trying to get into the grocery store distributors, how do you do that?  I would ask question after question after question and I felt like I was scraping trying to figure these things out.  Luckily I have a passion for learning and thank goodness Google came out in 2005.  It becomes your best friend as a lot of us feel.   As I have evolved over this past decade, I have thought, “Why are people keeping this so close to their vest?  It doesn’t hurt you to share.”  If I have a good experience with my factory, why wouldn’t I tell someone else?  That’s not going to affect my business, that’s just helping somebody else.  I feel by being generous, it’s helping our economy.

Patrick:  Just from this podcast, I’m going to start sharing everything.

Ty:  Wow.  We’ve made a convert. The rising tide lifts all boats, Patrick.

Patrick:  Yes it does.  I’ve really had a great time today.

Tamara:  Thank you so much. I really appreciate you having me on.

Patrick:  We’ll go ahead and wrap up today’s edition of the Business Fuel Podcast.  Remember you can pick up the podcast on Lendio.com/blog.  But before we sign off, let’s go back to Tamara’s website.  It’s TamaraMonosoff.com.  You can pick up all five of her books.  The one we were talking about today that’s being relaunched for 2014, The Mom Inventor’s Handbook. You can also pick it up on Amazon. Ty just quickly, your Forbes article of the week is what?

Ty:  Most small business owners that are just getting started don’t realize that they have two credit scores.  They have a personal credit score and they have a business credit score.  And you can’t ignore either one of them.  That’s what we’re talking about.

Patrick: You can go to Forbes.com and in the upper right corner type in Ty Kiisel.  So for Dr. Tamara Monosoff, Ty Kiisel, I’m Patrick Wiscombe.  Thank you for listening, we will talk to you next Tuesday.

Outro: Bringing you interviews with top business professionals and business financing tips to help fuel your American dream.  This has been the Business Fuel podcast, with your hosts, Ty Kiisel and Patrick Wiscombe, heard exclusively on Lendio.com

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About the author

Ty Kiisel
Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon.

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