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AMERICAN CITY BUSINESS JOURNALS – How to Covert Great Ideas into Marketable Products & Services


Crowd-funding and network collaboration useful tools for early-stage innovators.

Angel investors featured on the nationally televised program Shark Tank scrutinize ideas for new products and service presented by inventors looking to cash in on their dreams.

One lesson quickly learned by hopefuls is a great idea for a hot new product or service doesn’t easily translate to bringing their concept to market. Access to capital, manufacturing, distribution and a host of other considerations are daunting obstacles for many innovators unsure how to convert their ideas into a profitable business.

Craig Rabin has learned how to get his ideas to market by experience. Rabin, chief dreamer of the Seattle-based innovation house Mr. CER Tech, is creator of the Airhook, an innovative portable holder for drinks and electronic devices that easily affixes to airline seat tray tops.

Direct contact to first adopters

Rabin used the popular online crowd-funding platform Kickstarter to not only raise capital for his product, but to access a ready base of early adopters for feedback and market research.

“We launched on Kickstarter in June and were fully funded at $15,000 in 73 hours,” said Rabin. “The campaign ended closing at 480 percent over target and we raised nearly $80,000. To date we’ve sold nearly than 6000 units through our direct to consumer e-commerce channel.”

Rabin took advantage of the interest of initial contributors to get direct input on early product design and utility.

“If you think of Kickstarter as simply a fundraising platform, you’re going into the game wrong,” said Rabin. “You have direct contact with first adopters in your dream. The biggest thing to think about is not how much money you’re going to raise, but what you can do for your product with the direct connections you’re making with consumers.

We used Kickstarter to justify the market and gauge interest. What was most important in marketing was access to hundreds of people expressing interest in our product. I asked them directly for feedback. I sent a survey to these people asking for feedback on feature enhancement. They weighed in on new features and allowed us to add a separate hook for headphones, something we didn’t initially think of.”

Advice from existing network

Rabin is a proponent of tapping into existing networks for resource connections and advice on issues facing all inventors and new business start-ups.

“Funding requirements are one small piece of the puzzle,” said Rabin. “There are legal issues with patents, manufacturing issues, distribution and so forth. My advice on all these matters is phone a friend, use your lifeline. There are others in your network with experience. Take advantage of their knowledge.

Social media has made this even easier. Find knowledgeable people to bounce ideas off, validate your strategy or make introductions to others who can help you.”

Rabin encouraged new market entrants to check multiple data points before acting and look for overlaps and common ground in the advice.

Many communities have inventor meet-ups, inventors associations and incubator groups, often associated with state universities that can be good starting off points for early stage ideas.

At the end of the day, almost every idea needs help in making the transition to market.

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” said Rabin. “Those around you who share your dream bring additional ideas and input that makes you even more excited. That is a good thing”