“Build a Better Mousetrap & The World will Beat a Path to Your Door”…?

Aaron Call
October 25, 2019

Author: Aaron Call, Principal at Jaunt LLC

Innovation without Commercialization means the World may never know what’s behind Your Door. Market Validation predicts their connection.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s well-known promise[1] to innovators radically oversimplifies the story of commercial success, and those taking his advice literally continue to prove the difficulty of connecting invention with income.  Mousetraps hold the record as the most-invented device with over 4,400 U.S. Patents–but only 20 or so designs were ever profitable.[2]

Similarly, of the 34,400 new medical device patents filed in 2018,[3] 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,[4] and continues upward.

Emerson’s full quote leads entrepreneurs to believe the world will still beat a path to that better mousetrap (or medical device) even if it is “in the woods.”  The modern marketplace, however, requires most innovators to deliberately clear a path to their product.[5]  And to discover if the path is worth clearing, savvy entrepreneurs and inventors must confirm that eager crowds of customersnot just occasional wanderers—seek solutions in their neck of the woods.  

Market validation is finding out who is truly seeking solutions “in the woods,” and should begin well before commercialization by asking 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 on their target market and tests assumed value propositions, 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 and prevent more costly endeavors on the road to commercialization.  Early market validation data may also encourage innovators to pivot towards stronger solutions and more lucrative customer needs.  Either initially or after restructuring a solution, obtaining solid market validation also promotes crucial investor confidence, the key to funding further progress.

Despite the numerous problems waiting to be solved in the healthcare industry, a novel solution—building a better mousetrap—simply isn’t enough. The classic spring-loaded mousetrap patented in 1894[6] still dominates market share despite at least 4,400 other innovations. Confirming assumptions about innovation with early market validation confidently positions inventors and investors on the path to commercialization and ultimately prevents a never-knocked door in the woods.

[1] Emerson wrote, and likely spoke, several versions of this same idea. The earliest known published version on May 11, 1882 in the Atlanta Constitution read: “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.” (1882 May 11, Atlanta Constitution, Current Comment: The Value of Good Work: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Atlanta, Georgia.)

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/03/mousetraps-a-symbol-of-the-american-entrepreneurial-spirit/70573/

[3] https://www.kilpatricktownsend.com/-/media/Feature/Insights/Publication/2019-Patent-Trends-Study_Medical-Devices.ashx?la=en&hash=F17C1EF7DDEFF1CAD439600535FBD0949F6AB461

[4] https://www.kilpatricktownsend.com/-/media/Feature/Insights/Publication/2019-Patent-Trends-Study_Medical-Devices.ashx?la=en&hash=F17C1EF7DDEFF1CAD439600535FBD0949F6AB461

[5] Watch for this topic in a future Insight post on Jauntup.com

[6] William C. Hooker, US patent 528671

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