“Build a Better Mousetrap and the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door”…?

Aaron Call
February 02, 2021

Innovation without commercialization means the world may never know what’s behind your door. Market validation predicts their connection.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote at length, and likely spoke, about the connection between quality and success. The earliest known published version of his thoughts on this idea was revealed to the world on May 11, 1882 in the Atlanta Constitution. It read: “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.” 

However, this well-known promise to innovators radically oversimplifies the story of, and requirements behind, commercial success. The truth is that those who take this advice tend to prove that there is never a guarantee of income, regardless of the merits of the innovation. Case in point: mousetraps represent more than 4,400 U.S. patents – but only 20 or so designs were ever profitable.

Similarly, of the 34,400 new medical device patents filed in 2018, how many devices will eventually succeed in the MedTech market?  Medical device innovators face increasingly intense competition with multiple products and therapies promising solutions for the same problem.  The number of new medical device patents filed annually grew 53% between 2007 and 2018 and continues upward.

Market Validation Clears the Path to Commercialization

Market validation is what is often missing from a commercialization strategy.

In many regards, Emerson’s quote goes to the extreme, leading entrepreneurs to believe the world will still beat a path even if their innovation is found “in the woods.”  The modern marketplace, however, requires most innovators to deliberately clear a path to their product. But, most importantly, it’s critical to discover if the path is even worth clearing. 

Savvy entrepreneurs and inventors see the need to confirm that those eager crowds of customers – and not occasional wanderers – are even in their neck of the woods. And so too must they understand if they are seeking their solution in the first place.  

Market validation is how companies understand market demand. The market validation process begins well before commercialization and asks questions such as:

  • What pain, need, or want does this product address?
  • Who (and how many) needs/wants this, and why? 
  • Is the need/want immediate or long-term?

Performing the primary and secondary research to answer these and other questions provides companies with valuable data related to their target market. It puts assumed value propositions to the test, apart from the innovator’s natural bias towards their own ideas.    

Used early on, market validation can also reveal that an idea may not be strong enough for the target market. Early market validation data may encourage innovators to pivot towards stronger solutions that address more lucrative customer needs. Either initially or after restructuring a solution, solid market validation also promotes investor confidence, which is the key to funding further progress.

Better Isn’t Always Good Enough

The classic spring-loaded mousetrap patented in 1894[2] still dominates market share despite at least 4,400 other innovations. Many of these may have been superior in design, but there was a fundamental flaw related to bringing them to market. Perhaps they didn’t communicate their value proposition effectively. Or, perhaps consumers didn’t have the desire for a new trap – the old ones were working just fine. 

Despite the numerous problems waiting to be solved in the healthcare industry, a novel solution—building a better mousetrap—simply isn’t enough. Confirming assumptions about innovation with early market validation confidently positions inventors and investors on the path to commercialization. And, ultimately, it prevents innovators from sitting behind a quiet door in the woods that never gets knocked on.

If you are yet to formally validate your MedTech product in the market, we can help. Contact us for a consultation.

[1] (1882 May 11, Atlanta Constitution, Current Comment: The Value of Good Work: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Atlanta, Georgia.)

[2] William C. Hooker, US patent 528671

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