Stephen is an award-winning inventor and Entrepreneur who has licensed over twenty products. He is the Co-founder of inventRight, a company that teaches people how to license their ideas. He is also the Author of One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work.
Click to tweet: Fire Nation, Stephen shares his incredible journey on EntrepreneurOnFire today!
Worst Entrepreneur moment
- Stephen was INFURIATED when Lego stole his invention. He took them to court and won. But did he? Three years of pain and struggle… Was it worth it? You’ll have to listen in to find out, Fire Nation!
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- This AH-HA moment was one sentence and has netted Stephen tens of millions of dollars over the years. IGNITE!
What has you FIRED up?
- Crowdsourcing! SK expounds…
Small Business Resource
- Google.com/patents/related: The Prior Art Finder scans text for key phrases, combines them into a set of search queries, and displays the results from Google Patents.
Best Business Book
- One Simple Idea by Stephen Key
- Sell Your Ideas With or Without A Patent Stephen M Key
- The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- inventRight: Do you want your product on store shelves? Let me be your personal coach. Hello, and welcome! My name is Stephen Key and I’m very excited for you to have.
Stephen Key: Absolutely, I am.
John: Yes! Stephen is an award-winning inventor and entrepreneur who has licensed over 20 products. He's a co-found of inventRight a company that teaches people how to license their ideas. He's also the author of One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work. I like that last part.
Stephen, say what's up to Fire Nation and share what's going on in your world right now.
Stephen Key: Well, thank you very much, John. I am fired up, and I'll tell you the reason why. I love coming up with ideas and showing those to companies. They love those ideas, they rent them from me, and they pay me a royalty on every one they sell. And that means I can live anywhere I want to, and I live in a beautiful location, Lake Tahoe, and loving every single minute of it.
John: Ooh. Is that Lake Tahoe, Nevada, or California?
Stephen Key: Oh, I'm on the Nevada side, absolutely
John: You smart, smart man! And Fire Nation you see how he said that there. The Nevada side no state taxes.
Stephen Key: Twelve miles from California, and I love it.
John: So, Stephen, we have a lot to talk about today and I'm really excited. And there's one thing that I definitely realize about certain people, they're idea guys or idea gals. You know, they come up with great ideas, and that's just not everybody and that's okay, Fire Nation. But you can still find people and ideas by just looking, by keeping your eyes and ears open.
And I'm excited to be talking about your journey a little more, Stephen, to talk about exactly how the implementation process works. But before we do, I really wanna get inside your mind. I'm gonna ask you what I call the one-minute mindset questions; five insights, Stephen, into your mind. Take about a minute-ish to answer these questions.
No. 1 being, ideally, what do the first 80 minutes of your day look like?
Stephen Key: Well, first of all, I get up very early in the morning; I roll out of bed, and about 6:30 I start. I read the news, social media, look at emails, start my major list of what I wanna accomplish each and every day, and that's about the first 90 minutes.
John: Wow! So getting into it, keeping abreast, finger on the pulse, there's a lot of pros there but there's also some things that I'd love to discuss as well. But you know, that kind of goes with the weaknesses that we have as entrepreneurs.
And what would you say, Stephen, your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur is?
Stephen Key: My biggest weakness would probably be I’m not enjoying my success. I love the work so much that my wife's like, come on give it break. And I'm pretty intense, I do love it, though, so I don't consider it work. There you go.
John: There you go. Well, that was an interesting answer. It seems like it's almost your biggest strength, too, but what would you say your biggest strength as an entrepreneur is?
Stephen Key: I would say curiosity and creativity.
I love to try to understand how things work and what's new, what's going on out there. So that's why I love to start my day by reading what's happening. I need to have my finger to the pulse, you're absolutely right. So I say curiosity.
John: Curiosity killed the cat, but it's ignited Stephen Key. So Fire Nation, curiosity mix it in with your day, there's a great recipe for success.
And Stephen, you have a lot of good habits. You have some bad habits I'm sure, but what's a habit that you wish you had?
Stephen Key: Probably putting myself in other peoples' position and looking at things from their point of view.
Sometimes I just rush and I'm just concerned about maybe my world a little too much, so I wish I could change that habit.
John: I've been described as a bull in a China Shop sometimes; are you resonating with that, Stephen?
Stephen Key: Yes. I'm trying to, I've been trying to improve on that habit, but I'm not having much luck.
John: So, Stephen, what's one thing that has you more fired up right now than anything else? Take a minute and just kind of break it down for us, share with Fire Nation that one thing.
Stephen Key: I am fired up on the new ways of reaching my audience, or reaching people that need information through all the different types of social media. I think it's incredible today. And especially marketing today has changed so much that it's anybody can start a business, anybody can make a difference today, it doesn't require a lot of money. I'm fascinated by it.
John: There were so many barriers for so long to the individual that wanted to make a change and wanted to make a difference. We had to get in line, we had to pay our dues, you know we had to work our way to the top and then maybe have a flash in the sun; or maybe not because as we got to the top it wasn't what we'd been working for all these years.
Like how have you seen things change in this light recently?
Stephen Key: Well, what's wonderful, look at crowdfunding. It's the crowd has a voice now it's not a couple of guys in a room making a decision. That's incredible! So I love it. I think anybody with an idea and the passion can make it work today, and I think that's changed from even five to 10 years ago.
John: So Fire Nation, Stephen, we're entrepreneurs, we're sidepreneurs, we're trying to make it happen while we still have that job, we're small business owners.
What's something that you would say to the listener that resonates with your crowdfunding push? Like what steps would you recommend them taking to test ideas, to try, what have you seen that works, what do you wanna share?
Stephen Key: It's easy to test an idea today than it was a few years ago. You can put up, it takes a lot of work now, a successful crowdfunding campaign, but you have to work a couple of months prior to that campaign. People don't realize how much work it does take. But! If it is successful that proof of demand, that proof of concept, when someone opens their wallet and gives you money is incredible! It levels the playing field.
John: What are some things that are involved in those couple of months of work building up to a successful crowdfunding campaign?
Stephen Key: What I have found and I've coached a few successful campaigns, and what I've realized is that anything you do you have to start a couple of months prior to your launch. Make the connections; reach out to people that would be interested, and building those relationships. Build your army is what you're trying to do! So when you're ready to launch, you can get the word out and they can help you get the word out, and before you know it you've got this wave of interest.
John: What are a couple of ways you can build that army?
Stephen Key: I believe the most important part is to reach out to people, help them, understand their business, understand how you can help them. It's that type of relationship, long-term goal, so it's not always about yourself, it's always about how can you help them. So when you need them to return the favor they are there.
So I think it's always about building your army, building your connectors, and that way you can get the word out. I don't care if it's launching a book, website, crowdfunding campaign build your army by reaching out and helping others.
John: Now I've heard a lot of people talk about Kickstarter and Indiegogo, are those still the top two in your mind, and do you have a preference of the two?
Stephen Key: I think you have to look at each and every one and what's a good fit for you, but they're wonderful, it's incredible what's happening. But still you have to do your homework, you have to be prepared, and look at what other people have done, learn from them. Observe other successful campaigns and ask a lot of questions.
I'm curious. I ask a ton of questions before I start.
John: There's a recent Kickstarter campaign that really fired me up. You know, I like to enjoy a nice glass of scotch or a high quality tequila every now and then, and I was always kind of struggling to find that perfect circular ice cube. You know you can have them but it's hard to make the perfect circular ice cube.
And so a friend knew this and forwarded me this Kickstarter campaign. These two guys had the same pain and they created this unbelievable just little kind of foam box that makes perfect circular ice cubes. And its $120 bucks, it's not cheap, but it makes perfect ice cubes; of course, I'm gonna buy this for $120 bucks, and they had like $80,000 on Kickstarter that they had done.
So I mean it's just amazing that you could have a pain point, you can have a struggle Fire Nation that you know needs to be filled in this world. And you can go crowd-source to see if enough other people have that same pain point to make things happen.
And, Stephen, I'd love to turn the focus of this interview to your story, to your journey as an entrepreneur, and to do that I want you to get specific, okay? I want you to tell an actual story. So take us to what you would consider your worst entrepreneurial moment and tell us that story.
Stephen Key: Well, I have a few, but there's one that definitely stands out in my mind.
I was contacted by a very large toy company, that company was LEGO. And I had made samples, they loved my technology, everything was going right. I took off, I took a six-month vacation with my family and I came back and I didn't hear anything back. And sure enough my son had a birthday party and someone gave him a gift of my technology on a product called Bionicles by LEGO, it was a No. 1 hit, and I wasn't collecting any royalties. And I was just devastated. And I'd learned that my emotions got the best of me.
And so sure enough, I took them to Federal Court; it took three years in the San Francisco Federal Court. And here my name, Stephen Key Design v. LEGO, Inc., I never thought I'd ever get there it was a long journey. But I learned one thing, before you take anybody to court think long and hard of the big picture. Do not get emotional, it's only business and look at it from their point of view and try and work it out.
So I think looking back I jumped the gun on it. It worked out fine, but I think there could've been another way of doing it instead of spending three years of my life dealing with something like that.
John: And you can't get those three years back.
Stephen Key: No. My wife went to the first meeting and she said, "Don't ever talk to me about this, I'm never coming to another meeting, this is your journey, buddy." So it was pretty tough, but it worked out, I had to do it, I just would've approached it very differently.
John: Okay, so answer me this two-part question.
You used the phrase "my emotions got the best of me." Kind of expand upon that, share with us how your emotions got the best of you, specifically. And then, looking back how you wish you would've held your emotions in check, or how the listeners could potentially learn and hold their emotions in check on similar situations.
Stephen Key: I remember the day. I was back at their manufacturing facilities, LEGO United States. And I was with their attorneys and my attorneys and it got a little heated, and I said something I regret to this day, "I will see you in court." Never, ever say that to anybody, it becomes personal.
John: Uh, but we hear it in the movies all the time, "I'll see you in court!"
Stephen Key: Well, yeah, I learned the hard way, don't do it.
You know, even if you wanna say something don't, just hold it back and let it play out a little bit, right. I think they played me and I fell right into it.
John: Uh, they knew, they knew that you were gonna get emotional.
What can you tell Fire Nation right now? If you could just say, you know, maybe in just one closing sentence to kind of wrap up this part of your story, what do you want our listeners to really have sink in from this experience?
Stephen Key: Give yourself some time to think. Walk away from this decision or just keep your mouth just keep it to yourself. And do not look at it from a personal standpoint look at it from a business standpoint. Is it really gonna hurt you, how much is it gonna hurt you, and just listen be a good listener. And then come back later with a strategy.
John: And what could you do alternatively with that time that you're spending on this negative energy positively to make such bigger and better things and impacts on the world? Fire Nation, really think about that.
And here's a good little strategy that I've heard. Stephen, I'd love your feedback on it real quick.
But if you're gonna ever send an email that you know is emotional and that you know is maybe a little heated and says a few things, you know don't just not send it but use a tool like Boomerang that you can actually send emails back to yourself. And do that first, just send the email back to yourself 24 hours later and then when it arrives in your inbox, just put yourself in the recipient's, in their shoes, open the email and try reading it objectively. And then say, hey, do I still wanna send this email, and if you do go for it but you might be shocked at the results.
Stephen Key: I think you're absolutely right, you're not gonna send it if you give yourself a little time, that's great advice. I'll have to take that because sometimes I've sent a few emails –
John: Ah, ditto. I think one happened this morning so for me.
So Stephen, let's shift gears here and talk about an aha moment, an epiphany, a light bulb that went on at some point in your journey. And Stephen, you're an idea guy, my friend. Light bulbs are going on inside your head all the time; you've probably had four epiphanies during this interview. But what I would love for you to do is to take us to one that you know would resonate with our listeners, Fire Nation. Tell us that story, the build-up around it, and the steps you took to turn that into success.
Stephen Key: Thank you.
I have this technology that Proctor & Gamble was interested in, and they called me and I was amazed.
So I went out to their campus in Cincinnati and the sun was shining and I thought my big day had arrived. So I get to this meeting with all the technical people that are looking at my technology, I've got a marketing person here, I've got the manufacturing person, I've got my whole team. I walk into a room there's 20 people from Proctor & Gamble, and three of us. And in a very short period of time they slid a piece of paper across the table and they said, "Mr. Key, we are not going to pay you one penny for your innovation," and they all got up and they walked out.
On that piece of paper were patent numbers, prior art, that related to my innovation, the reason why the CEO had invited me to come out to share my innovation with their technical group, and I didn't know what to say. In fact, when I walked across the lawn after having lunch before that meeting, and I thanked the gentleman that invited me, said, "Steve, remember one thing, there's no such thing as a free lunch."
I took those patent numbers back and I sent them over to my attorneys when I got back to California. And he said, "Steve, they found some prior art, in fact, the innovation that they're interested in has already been done, so you really don't have any ownership, you will never make any money from it."
So I went on vacation for a couple of weeks and I couldn't understand, it didn't make sense to me why everybody loved it, it had been done before and they were right. They found prior patents 50 years ago, and the exact same idea I thought I had invented. But I looked at the patent very, very closely and I realized there were things that were missing; there was no method of manufacturing, something everyone missed in that room. My attorneys missed it, their attorneys missed it; the brightest minds on the planet missed this one obvious thing that I saw.
So today, with that same technology it's made me tens of millions of dollars. I have over 20 patents, and I collect royalties on that same technology that someone else invented but the opportunity, the creativity came by looking at something and finding the holes finding the opportunities in what looked like an obstacle.
John: Method of manufacturing; that was the loop that you found, that was the epiphany that you had looking at it that, like you said, all the brightest minds had missed. I mean, to me Fire Nation, this just is such an inspiring story but it's also such a story of, hey, don't cook the goose 'til the gander is cooked. And don't look that phrase up, Fire Nation, because I just made it up.
So, Stephen, I love that story because I felt like I was there with you with 20 people in the room just with these smug looks on their faces, sliding across the piece of paper, and then kind of filing out you know like they just won WW III or something. And then you just disheveled, you know kind of slinking away from P&G and going on vacation being like, man, this has happened to me again.
But you know, you took what was in front of you, you looked at it with an open mind, and you probably let your emotions settle down a little bit this time, and you said let me look at this objectively and see what I can see. And tens of millions of dollars later you know that one thing you saw that made all the difference in the world was a huge turning point. So I commend you for that.
And Stephen, I'm loving these stories, I'm digging at my friend, I'm not gonna let you go anywhere because we're about to enter the lightning round. But before we do, let's take a minute to thank our sponsors.
Stephen Key: I think I needed a mentor when I first started out. I needed a roadmap and I didn't know what to do, I knew I wanted to be creative, I wanted to start a business, but I just didn't have anybody to help me.
John: My favorite phrase is: Fire Nation, find somebody who is where you want to be and see if you can become an apprentice of that person; learn from them, be a mentee.
Stephen, what's the best advice you've ever received?
Stephen Key: My father told me in order to create great wealth find something that has a multiplying effect, something that does not require your hands or your presence. And I took that advice and that's why I've been in the game of collecting royalties ever since, having people work for me.
John: Scalable, leverageable Fire Nation.
Stephen, we talked about a habit that you wish you had. What's a habit that you do have that you believe contributes to your success?
Stephen Key: I don't know if it's a habit, John, but I can tell you one thing. When I get a rejection, a no, it doesn't bother me. In fact, it fires me up is what it does, and it makes me more motivated. My wife's like you're like a punching bag, they can knock you down you just jump right back up. So I don't know if that's a habit, but I'm a pretty tough guy.
John: It's a compliment, I can tell you that much.
And Stephen, do you have an internet resource like Evernote that you can share with our listeners?
Stephen Key: Yes, I do. I'm all about doing research and I'm always curious, I have a curiosity about what has been done before me. So the resources, it's google.com/patents/related – that will allow you to look at prior art, not only patents but articles, things that have been written about your idea. And it's very important to do if you come up with an idea and you wanna see if there's an opportunity for you.
John: Google.com/patents/related. Fire Nation, we'll have it in the [Inaudible] [00:20:30] page.
And Stephen, if you could recommend just one book for our listeners, what would it be and why?
Stephen Key: Very simple. I just read The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Absolutely love it. Obstacles are gonna come your way every single day, turn those into opportunities. That's a fantastic book.
John: It's amazing, big time into stoicism and you know that really gets into that. We actually had, Stephen, Ryan Holiday come on Entrepreneur On Fire and talk about that book, specifically. It is fascinating what he was talking about, what went into creating that book. Love it.
And Fire Nation, don't forget, One Simple Idea by Mr. Stephen Key, himself, Turn Your Dreams Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work.
And Stephen, I know that Fire Nation loves audio so I teamed up with Audible. And if they haven't already they can get an amazing audio book for free at EOFireBook.com. My question to you is can we get your book for free at Audible?
Stephen Key: Well, it is an audio book from McGraw-Hill, absolutely, you can.
John: Perfect! Well, listen Fire Nation there you go. And guess what, if you can get it on Audible you can get it for free, Stephen still gets paid because it’s a one free-book offer, or you can choose [Inaudible] [00:21:52], of course, that's your choice.
And Stephen, this next question is the last of the lightning round, but it's a doozy.
Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world identical to earth but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have, your food and shelter taken care of, but all you have is a laptop and $500.00. What would you do in the next seven days?
Stephen Key: I would create a website, I'm sorry to say it, and I'd open the doors ready for business. I don't care. I love connecting with people and I think there's such an opportunity for anybody anywhere in the world to start. And it starts with a web page, brand yourself, get the word out, and have a blast for those seven days.
John: Heck yeah! And Stephen, we're gonna have a blast by ending this interview on fire with you sharing one parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we'll say goodbye.
Stephen Key: Very simple. You can always find me at inventRight.com where there's a lot of free stuff, videos, I write for Entrepreneur.com, and also Inc. I'm always writing about licensing lifestyle, I come up with ideas and let people work for you.
John: So cool, so cool. And what's a parting piece of guidance?
Stephen Key: You know what's amazing, everybody has creativity. Build that muscle, get out there, get off the couch and do something, make something happen, open doors, reach out to people. It's a fantastic life, live it!
John: Yes! And Fire Nation, you know this; you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you've been hanging out with Stephen Key and JLD today, so keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com, just type Stephen that's with a "ph" in the search bar, his [inaudible] [00:23:51] page will pop right up with his website, his book, his recommended book. I mean the great resource, google.com/patents/related, everything that we talked about today.
And Stephen, thank you my friend for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that we salute you and we'll catch you on the flip side.
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