In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Warren Tuttle, whose new book titled Inventor Confidential: the Honest Guide to Profitable Innovation, is a number one bestseller on Amazon. Warren Tuttle is the President of the United Inventors Associations and in his book, shows inventors a better way to monetize their product.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • Warren’s entrepreneurial start from having a paper route to owning a food business with actor Paul Newman to writing a book
  • In which ways the process of working with inventors have changed over time
  • How the patent industry has changed in recent years
  • In which ways launching a book is similar to taking a product to market
  • The top 5 things inventors should be aware of before taking a product to market
  • What the future of inventing looks like

Links

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Welcome entrepreneurs and startups to Art of the Kickstart, the podcast that every entrepreneur needs to listen to before you launch. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president and founder of Enventys Partners, the world’s only turnkey product launch company that has helped over 2,00 innovations successfully raise over $400 million in capital since 2010. Each week, I interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level. This show would not be possible without our main sponsor Product Hype, a 300,000 member crowdfunding media site and newsletter that’s generated millions of dollars in sales for over 1,000 top tier projects since 2017. Check out ProductHype.co to subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Now let’s get on with the show.
Welcome to another addition of Art of the Kickstart. Today is a very special day, because we are interviewing someone who has been helping the inventor community for decades. I don’t want to date you, but Mr. Warren Tuttle, he has overseen the open innovation product programs for several industry leading companies including Lifetime Brands, you’ve likely heard of lots of their products from Farberware to Kitchen Aid, as well as the power tool industry with Techtronics, as well as the direct response television. Warren has been out there, he’s been the person behind the launches of several highly successful consumer products. He interacts and has helped hundreds of thousands of inventors over his years. He’s been a part of over 100 different licensing deals, and his products that he’s worked with have done over $1 billion in retail sales.
So it’s an honor to have you, sir, Warren Tuttle on the show today. Thank you for joining us.
Hey, Roy. Thanks so much for the kind intro and it’s great to be here.
Warren, we’ve been working together for a long time, been part of the board on the United Inventors Associations, which is the only national 501C-3 nonprofit out there with truly the highest of ethical standards that are trying to help inventors through our education, our advocacy, sponsoring of inventor booths and pavilions, like at the Hardware Show, and the PGA show, and a few other things. You’ve been out there helping. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a copy from the Harper Collins leadership of your new book titled Inventor Confidential: the Honest Guide to Profitable Innovation, which just launched on Amazon. It’s already a number one bestseller on there. If you would for our audience, kind of start at the beginning. Where did this passion begin? And what inspired you to work with inventors?
Well I don’t know how far back you want me to go, but I do start the book with at age nine, I had a paper route. I was an entrepreneur from a young person. I shoveled driveways and sidewalks of snow. I bought a six and a half foot Meyer plow when I was 16 and hooked it up to a secondhand Jeep. I had a window washing business, I washed dishes. I was always a worker and an entrepreneur. I’d say my passion for working and being an entrepreneur, I was born with it pretty much. What I did after college though, was I went to work for a department store in New York city called Abraham Strauss. It no longer exists, but it was a tremendous training program for young people who wanted to get into retail. Today, they’re part of Macy’s.
But I became a buyer. I was in the housewares area. Just moving through the years fairly quickly, that led me to starting my own businesses in southern Connecticut, I had a number of kitchenware shops called the Complete Kitchen, in Westchester County and Fairfield County in southern Connecticut. I had a food business called the Good Food Store, where actually my partner was the iconic actor Paul Newman, who was doing his things. I had sort of a nationally renowned cooking school. One day, an inventor walked into my shop and he had a product called Misto, M-I-S-T-O. At the time it was something he was just working on. It was the first inventor I think I ever met. We talked for a couple hours.
I ordered something from him, he didn’t have any in stock, he just had a prototype, and I asked him if I could partner and hook up with him because I was pretty good at launching new products. I had been the first store in America to launch an espresso coffee system and many other new products. We hooked up, and I helped Tom really literally out of the garage roll out this product. we went on to sell 1.2 million units the first year we were in business. It’s an olive oil sprayer that is an alternative to Pam, and allows you to spray your own oil, naturally. The patent was in the nozzle, because it could handle the viscosity of oil. Had a natural pump mechanism.
Now, you didn’t have to worry about throwing away a can at the end, which would go in a landfill, so it had an environmental angle. That was my first sojourn in working with an inventor. I eventually sold my stores and jumped into the inventor world. I’ve been at it ever since. I go into that in the book. But I just love the excitement of the industry, I love helping others. Quite frankly, I do talk in the book about a major failure I had. That’s a lot of my passion to help others comes from some of the mistakes I learned the hard way.
Yeah. I mean over the past few decades, Warren, in terms of working with inventors, how has the process changed for inventors?
Well, it’s a really good question. In some ways it’s changed dramatically, and in some ways, the core mission, not at all. Let me start with the core mission, the old school. Because a lot of me is old school. The ideation of new products, developing them, developing a prototype, pursuing intellectual property, and making sure you vet the marketplace and do all the right things is what I talk about extensively in the book, about there’s no shortcuts in these things. As far as developing the product, and then getting to the point where you can choose which path to market you want to go, I’m very old school and I don’t think the shortcuts are that helpful to people.
At the end of the day, it’s much harder to get your product to market if you don’t do things properly. At the end of the day, if you’re going to license, you don’t get as high royalty agreements. On the other hand, the whole world has changed in the last 20 years. I’ll start in no particular order, but inventors have changed. They’re getting younger. They’re getting more diverse, which is a great thing. We have the maker movement and makers coming in, which is sort of an adjunct space. It’s really brought a lot of enthusiasm to building products and making things. Going to retail is probably more difficult, but it’s probably easier for inventors to go, themselves, directly to market through the internet, their own websites, through Amazon, the Grommet and other places.
Then of course an arena that you’re very involved in, Crowdfunding has just been, I think, one of the great platforms to come forth. I’m pretty critical of most things. But crowdfunding, I remember when I was a young man starting my store, I couldn’t get capital. I didn’t have a house to borrow against or collateralize. I couldn’t get money from friends and family, and it was very difficult getting off the ground. Not that it’s less difficult in some ways, but the whole platform of crowdfunding, and the idea of getting out there and raising capital through a diverse group of people that have interest in supporting you and having that launch you is just very exciting to me.
Some things remain the same, Roy, and some are new and exciting. I do talk about that extensively in the book.
Absolutely. Let’s talk about, not necessarily the failures that you’ve had, or failure. Because all of the startups out there, I think, need those failures or those learnings and those educational moments. But what were some of the biggest challenges that you see inventors encountering today?
Well, the overall theme of the book is that, in essence, and the reason I wrote the book. Because I do think that inventors are very challenged today. The invention world goes back in our country to the founding of the country. I like to say in 1792, the second building built after the White House in Washington DC was the Patent Office. Thomas Jefferson was the first director of the Patent Office. George Washington licensed the third patent ever issued, which became his gristmill, which he made a fortune from. There’s been many famous inventors embedded in our history and our society, from the beginning. Not to mention Thomas Edison, I’m sure that’s where the Edison Nation name came from.
But things have, I’d say, progressed now today, where it’s maybe we’ve weakened, a little bit, the patent world has been weakened by big tech companies that have gotten involved. I think that we’ve a little bit lost our way with some of the challenges that inventors face. There seems to be, younger people don’t quite respect patents quite as much. The tech arena has had a big influence on that. Then the other part of it, Roy, is all the companies out there and individuals that offer services to inventors. Some of them are good, and some of them, people take a lot of money from inventors. They take it upfront. They don’t see any success or reward for that. I’m talking about financial reward. I try to explain to inventors that you have a right to make a profit, you know? If you don’t, you have to be very careful with your money.
I spent a lot of time explaining to people how to vet the various programs, and people are out there to help them. I see a lot of storm clouds and challenges, and that’s what I try to dissect and sort of warn people. I don’t know that this will be the most popular book, because I don’t have on the cover that, find gold mines and make millions. I’m more about the real world reality of if you’re going to do things, you’ve got to do them right and be wary, you know?
Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s called Inventor Confidential, and it is the Honest Guide to Profitable Innovation. You are telling the story there, in terms of things to look out for, things to be advised about. As well as the best resources that you’ve seen or you can give to inventors in the community out there that have been vetted and are looking out for the inventor community as a whole.
You’re 100%. It’s funny, when you’re been around this stuff, I’ve been doing this for 25 years. Which I’ve learned a lot. When you come into this field, and you’re new to the inventing process, there’s a lot to learn. You don’t learn it overnight. To your point earlier, people do make mistakes. What you hope is that you don’t make the type of massive mistake I made where you lose a lot of money, and it becomes extremely painful. But you do that in the moderate way that you can survive to fight another day. Sometimes the best thing for an inventor is to throw in the towel and say, “You know this is not the one.” And move on to the next one.
Yeah, it sounds like a saying from Mr. Wonderful, take it out behind the shed and shoot it, right?
Well I shouldn’t’ say this because I’ve been happily married for 38 years. But looking back at my youth, it’s a lot like dating. It may be right, it may be wrong. If it’s wrong, you’ve got to move on, you know?
Absolutely. Let’s talk about the launch. You had mentioned before that you’ve been launching products or ideas or innovations for a long time. Let’s talk about the launch of the book. What were some of the things that you potentially prepared or put into place to launch this book so successfully now?
Well it’s a good question because it is very similar to taking a product to market. It’s so funny because I’ve had to learn the literary world. I have an agent who’s helped me. Just like inventors get someone to help them sometimes. He’s an individual who’s really counseled me. Look the process is very similar. You first have to get a passion for writing the book. In my case, I have a very dear friend Jeff Mangus who helped me with the book. Jeff is an inventor, lives in West Virginia. Jeff had submitted many projects over the years, come to me, we’ve developed a bit of a relationship, my helping and guiding him.
He kept saying to me, “Hey there’s other books on the market written by inventors, or written by marketers and other things, but there’s really no book written from the insider companies and the open innovation process, of what they’re really thinking of when they look at products.” He kept saying, “You have a unique story to tell.” I put him off for a couple of years, but eventually it kind of wore me down. Two years ago, we set about putting this together. Now I was involved in every word, and wrote every word. But Jeff was incredibly helpful of me in so many ways of laying it out and supporting it and doing everything. I want to give him full credit for everything that we’ve done.
But at the end of the day it’s my story. I had to then take it from there. As I got more involved in it, we were originally going to self publish and all that. I just didn’t know where we were going to go, quite frankly. It was kind of like an invention, where do you go next? Then talking to some friends, I found out a little more about the industry, I ended up getting an agent. He said, “I think this will be a great book to send to a couple of book publishers.” We ended up putting together a 70 page basically preview of the book, and how we would socially support it and so forth, social marketing support it.
Eventually, sent it to 30 companies, got several offers. Surprising to me, which Harper Collins was at the very top of my list, because they’re the second biggest book company in the world. They came back and put together a great deal. They’ve been very supportive. Unfortunately the book, like I said before, is about six months behind because of COVID. But no fault of theirs. But they’ve been doing a great job. Then what I’ve learned along the way, Roy, very similar to what you do with your crowdfunding platforms is, you also have to put your own effort in social media background to work, and try to leverage off all the people that you know to really get the word out there.
Because if you just rely on the publishing company, you’re only going halfway. A big part of the effort is to get the word out through other networks.
Absolutely. It is certainly not a field of dreams, if you build it they will come scenario anymore.
Exactly. Well you know better than anyone.
Indeed. Well it’s interesting, what you mention is kind of putting together that 70 page synopsis. That’s almost your prototype, right? Then the book publishers were basically your early adopters, potentially, that wanted to invest into it. Then you chose the main one and launched it out there. It’s very similar with the crowdfunding site.
You’re so right in that. Inventors have a lot in common with musicians and artists and authors, and creative endeavors. You’re doing something mechanical a lot of times. But at the end of the day it’s a creative effort. You have to learn the same way that an author or musician would. How does a musician learn to play the guitar, be really good, and then become more famous or at least get their music out there? Very similar paths.
Absolutely. In your years of doing this, what’s been the biggest surprise of your career in working with inventors from all around the world?
Well I would say generically, it’s always a surprise when something you think is going to be a big hit fails. Likewise, when something you didn’t think had a chance made it. I will say that I’ll give you two examples in the housewares business. One was a handheld, sort of julienne slicing machine that you could put carrots and potatoes and various things through, and different blades. We were just convinced with all the demos that this would be just a tremendous hit. It was sort of novel in the marketplace, and completely bombed. On the same token, I had an inventor that sent me a splatter screen once that he had put a carbon charcoal filter on it, and I thought, “Well that’s pretty cool.” But I didn’t realize how big a category splatter screens were. And we’ve gone on to sell millions of those.
There’s always that surprise, you’ve got to go the whole path to market at the end of the day. You never know whether a product is going to be a hit or not till you get to market and it’s been a success. I laugh a lot of times when I see people boasting about signing licensing agreements. It’s fine. It’s like getting your patent. But it doesn’t mean anything in terms of marketplace success, until you hear about that product two or three years later being a big success. A lot of them just go by the wayside. For an inventor, you’ve got to keep at it, you can’t relax until that product starts selling and starts reordering. Then finally, you can move on to the next one. I’d say generically, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.
Nice. I know you touch on this in the book, but give our listeners a little bit of insight in terms of something like the top five things inventors should be aware of before bringing their product to market.
Well the first thing, obviously you go through an ideation process, which is the thought process of coming up with an idea. By the way, I actually get pretty sophisticated, I have a whole chapter on TRIZ and SCAMPER, which are really sophisticated ideation platforms that big companies use. They’re quite engineering based, and quite elite. But after the idea stage, the next stage becomes vetting the marketplace. You really need to do a good job with that. That becomes, like we always say, more than just talking to your wife and kids and family. They’ll all tell you what you want to hear. What you need to do is get outside of that realm and you need to talk to people that are experts. I’ll say in the hardware space, for instance, when I was doing the power tool stuff, I would go down. I knew all the guys at my local Home Depot. I would go down on a regular basis to run things past them and see what they thought.
You want to get some expert advice. There’s a lot of people out there that help inventors, but they have generic knowledge, they don’t necessarily know about your industry. For instance, I know housewares inside and out. When I see a housewares product, I have 40 years of experience there. You want to reach out. There’s other ways to find experts. Go to trade shows. I know they haven’t been running the last year because of COVID, but they’re going to start picking up again. That’s a great place to learn an industry, get involved in your industry that you want to exploit. There are trade magazines. Sort of break out to find out and learn. One of the big problems I find with inventors, they invent things that don’t have a big enough market appeal.
In other words, they solve a problem, but it’s not a big enough problem for enough people. If you’re inventing, my big failure was a product called Stir Chef, only appealed to disabled folks and seniors at the end of the day, that was not a big enough market to do enough volume. You need to do your homework, your research. Then what’s really, really critical is you need to build a functioning prototype. I can’t tell you, in the beginning, when I was first doing this, we licensed products that never worked, couldn’t be manufactured, it was a complete waste of time. Now, we go through the process very seriously to make sure things work. The prototype doesn’t have to be perfect, it can be ugly. But it has to prove function at the end of the day.
That’s going to give you a leg up in understanding. As you develop that prototype, that becomes your mechanical claims for filing patents. At the end of the day, I know the patent system is under assault, and I do talk about that extensively in the book. But companies, they want to license property. They want to license not just an idea. I’m not saying you can’t license an idea, I’m not saying it’s impossible. But it’s remote. Even if you could, your royalty rate would be way down. If you want to get top royalty, if you want to pursue the right path in market, we know at the end of the day, filling for intellectual property becomes an important process.
Those are probably the five things that are really important to getting to the licensing stage. Let me add one more. Then when you finally submit, or if you’re going to license it to a company and you get someone like me, then you need to act professionally. You can’t be a know it all, you can’t get pissed off and yell at me. You can’t tell me after a week, “If I don’t hear back I’m moving on to someone else.” These things I write about in the book, and I tell funny stories about it. I mean you can do all that, you’re not bothering me, but it’s not going to help your chances for success. You’ve got to listen and you’ve got to be professional. Don’t try to sell your product on the first meeting. Basically develop a relationship which over time strengthens with the company.
I do try to talk about this a lot, Roy.
Amazing. Well I know everybody’s going to be hopefully getting this book right after this interview publishes. Again, Inventor Confidential, live on Amazon right now, The Honest Guide to Profitable Innovation. Warren, this is going to get us into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?
Yeah, I’m good to go man, thanks.
What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
It’s in my blood. I had a hard time working for others, I had a hard time taking orders. A good friend of mine introduced me once at a speaking event and said, “This is my friend Warren, he’ll do anything you ask him, and nothing that you tell him.” If you have that, I don’t need an alarm clock to get up in the morning. It was in my blood. If you’re like that, you probably want to go into your own business.
Absolutely. If you could meet any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Well I’d say modern day would for sure be Dean Kamen. I really want to meet Dean. All he’s done in the robotic space, and all he’s done supporting inventors is awesome. Historically, man, I would like to meet them all. I’d like to meet Tesla, probably, primarily. But I’ll take Edison, I’ll take Whitney. I’ll take them all.
Well let’s go with Edison, what would’ve been your first question for him?
I’ll tell you what, my first question would’ve been, how many failures did you have? Yeah, what was your success rate? How much energy did you spend on the failures? I think that’s where I would go with him. I want to hear the whole story, of exactly the hard work, sweat, and tears he went through to be an overnight success.
Nice. Outside of your book, which is already active on Amazon, what other book would you recommend to the inventor or entrepreneur startup community?
Well I have a bunch of books I lay out, they’re not necessarily inventor books. But there’s four or five of them that sort of surround and can supplement. I would definitely read books that were written by inventors and other folks. But the books that I highlight are number one, Blue Ocean Strategy is probably the number one selling business book in the history of the world, in 48 languages. It tells you about how to analyze your business, how to shift into new things. Quite frankly, it was the basis for our whole Open Innovation Program at Lifetime Brands, to do something new and different. I would highly recommend that.
I love the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which talks about doing things to the Nth degree, putting in your 10,000 hours and becoming special, and what are the traits that make people that they’re unique and highly successful? I love the book the Game Changer by AG Lafley, which talks about open innovation. There’s a whole bunch of books. What was the most recent one? It’s on the tip of my tongue. But my John Carreyrou, which is the book about the complete disaster in Silicon Valley of the blood testing machine.
Theranos?
Yeah, Theranos, yeah. Which is just an amazing book, which tells you, Roy, what happens when you don’t build a functioning prototype on a billion dollar level. Those are a few books I might recommend to folks.
Yeah. Solid list there. Last question, Warren. Your insight is going to be really interesting on this, in terms of what does the future of inventing look like?
That is a great question. Number one, I’ll assume that you mean grassroots inventing, the entry level, the garages and basements and that’s sort of my area. I’ll tell you what, we’re in a fight for our lives in a lot of things. By the way, the first half of my book is all mechanical, tell you how to. But the second half of my book is a lot about that, about what we have to beware of. Quite frankly, there’s many different shareholders in the innovation space in America and they all have different interests. Inventors, grassroots inventors. I call ourselves hobbits, we’re these little people running around the Shire while there’s these big, huge soldiers with big swords fighting. That’s the big tech companies and the pharma companies.
The tech industry is, in essence, in their own interest, feel that they get sued to much and they have done everything they can to weaken the patent system. The pharma industry’s interested more like inventors, in a stronger patent system. Universities have a certain role in that, and inventors do. What my biggest concern is, if the big companies who dominate continue to weaken the patent system, then there won’t be protection. A lot of these big tech companies started only 15, 20 years ago with patents, the same way. Now that they’re up in the tree fort, they want to pull the ladder up. Right now, there’s a whole bunch of things going on that I don’t want to get too technical about, but legislation on Capital Hill, the patent trial and appeal board at the US Patent Office, which enables the same organization that awarded your patent to be able to relatively take it away.
There’s a whole bunch of issues that I describe in the book. If we’re not vigilant, if we don’t stay after that, we’re going to lose more rights for inventors. Then pretty soon, the new innovation, big ideas will only come from big companies. We know where that leads in time. We know the story of Kodak, Kodak invented the digital camera, and then completely shelved it because they didn’t want to harm their film margins. Decisions are made in the board room that get more and more conservative, less innovative. We’re already heading for more … More patents were issued in China last year than America. By some accounts, we’re now the 10th ranked patent system in the world, where we used to be number one.
We’re trending in some wrong directions. We need to double down and convince America that innovation, grassroots innovators, patents to protect people to get off the ground, is all vital to our innovation future. Unfortunately, I don’t mean to roll on and on, but we have many other challenges in front of us. We have the environment, global warming, we’ve got social movements like Me, Too and Black Lives Matter. We have peace in the Middle East. We have a lot of other economic and virus related things. People don’t oftentimes think about innovation and what’s important for inventors. We’re way down the list. But somehow, we’ve got to keep our head above water while we get through some of these sort of tumult times.
I think there’s people out there battling, and I hope for the best. It’s one of the reasons, Roy, at the end of the day I wrote the book. I wrote the chapter giving everybody something to do, from the Supreme Court to Congress to the US PTO, to inventors, to everybody to help keep up on an innovative track.
Absolutely. Time to take action. Well Warren, this has been amazing. This is your chance to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where people should go, what you’re all about, and why they should check out your new book.
Well thanks Roy, listen, I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life. I run Open Innovation Programs, which take the best of both worlds from merging big companies and looking outside their four walls, with inventors who have new ideas. Inventors, makers, product developers, designers. I do this every day. I look at thousands of products a year. I’m very involved. I’m hands on, I don’t have a staff, I do it myself. Very involved in the nonprofit inventor space, giving back to others. I’ve been very blessed and fortunate, so I feel very important to give back to others. This book is an attempt to give back to others. I talk about successes. But I also talk about failures. There’s significant sections in the book of how to deal with failing and getting back on the horse.
It’s been a labor of love over the last two years to write the book. I’m glad it’s finally here. And I hope people take advantage of it and read it and if they have questions, they can reach out. I have a website, InventorConfidential.com. I’m always happy to get back to people.
Awesome. Well audience, thank you again for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the book and everything else we talked about today. Of course, thank you to our Crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and Product Hype. Mr. Warren Tuttle, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Thanks, Roy.
Thanks for tuning into another amazing episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a better business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, show us some love by giving us a great rating on your favorite listening station. And of course, make sure to visit ArtoftHeKickstart.com for all of the previous episodes. If you need some help, that’s what we’re here for. Make sure to send me an email to info@ArtoftheKickstart.com. Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll see you on the next episode.