Davison and being an inventor Answered
Last week a company called Davison was running targeted ads on Instructables through Google Adsense. Google Adsense typically places contextual-based ads on sites making connections between advertisers and publishers based on their search technology. However, advertisers can also work with Google to directly placed ads on specific sites. At first, we were flattered that Davison chose to target us, and further flattered that they were actually using our terminology in their ads. You may have seen "Cool Instructable?" or "Have an Instructable?" text ads running in our right sidebar.
After checking out what Davison does, I decided they weren't a good fit with us and removed the ads. Normally, this would be no big deal, but because of the business Davison is in and the specifics of this case, I wanted to share my thinking.
Davison solicits ideas from independent inventors, creates prototypes, markets potential products to manufacturers and distributors, and collects royalties. This is not worlds different from what we did at Squid Labs, except I would characterize Squid's activities as more technical and with the aim of creating sustainable businesses rather than exclusively creating products to be licensed.
The rub comes in that Davison is not forthcoming with how they actually make money: high fees paid by the independent inventors. Here's a Forbes article that goes into greater depth, but for me, the important statistic is this:
37,000 or so people have contracted Davison Design's services in the last five years; but only eight of those who have signed up have realized royalties exceeding their fees to Davison.
A 0.02% success rate is just awful, and clearly shows that they are preying upon people who don't know any better.
The thing that personally put me over the edge was a section from their Questions and Myths:
9. Can I tell people about my idea? We recommend that you do not publicly disclose your invention/idea to anyone (not even a friend or a family member), unless you have confidential documents in place to verify that you are the originator of the invention.
Obviously, I have a conflict of interest, because I want you to share your initial ideas here in the forums and how you built your ideas into prototypes as Instructables to help me grow the site; however, the concept of absolute secrecy is anathema to me. Here at Squid Labs, we know of no one that has had their invention stolen by some big corporation (more on this at Saul's column in Makezine Vol. 9; full text available as an attached PDF, kindly permitted by Make). My experience has uniformly been that sharing yields stronger results than hiding. The person you share your ideas with might turn into a business partner and be instrumental in your shared success.
Clearly there's demand for services to help inventors. Davison seems to have a nice facility at Invention Land; instead, why don't they invite the almost 8000 people per year that contact them to attend an "invention boot camp?" Attendees could learn some basic design, CAD, and machining skills, give mock presentations, and learn how to do a preliminary patent search. If Davison was doing a good job, they would start to see some success from their graduates, and companies looking for innovation would seek out the graduates or ask to attend the camp's final design reviews.
Teaching people all these skills might sound impossible - like a full undergraduate and graduate series of degrees compressed into an 80-hour crash course. No course can cover everything- instead, it should give motivated people the basic skills and confidence to start doing it themselves, and teach them how to seek out the additional knowledge they need. It's surprising what motivated people can accomplish if you just get them started.
In 2002 Saul and I taught a one-week class called Cyclomerisation where we taught a group of 12 people just enough bicycle design, CAD, and manufacturing to make them dangerous. Each person then designed their own custom bicycle using 8020 extruded aluminum and jet-machined connectors. We had telescoping unicycles, recumbent tricycles, and plenty of standard bikes; for example, check out Saul's 8020 Chopper. Half the participants were MIT students, half were not, and it made no difference -- everyone was motivated to learn something new and to put it into practice.
If this idea isn't Davison's thing, then maybe I've found a project to work on after Instructables can run itself. In the meantime, I'm sharing the idea with all of you, because that's the best way to vet it, see if it has legs, and make it stronger.
More pictures from Cyclomerisation here and here.