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Don’t Ask Your Mom

David McCutcheon and his team designed the winning product, The Wedgy, during Season 2. David has launched his own site, InventionDaD.com that looks at the invention process and gives his own personal insights. David wrote the following blog for Make48 on how to receive an honest opinion for your invention. 

When I was a kid hanging out with my buddies, “Don’t ask your mom,” became our favorite mantra.  

“I don’t know if my mom will let me keep this turtle.”

“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to leave my little sister alone.”

“I wonder if we should light this on fire.”

Each of these uncertainties was invariably met with a chorus of, “Don’t ask your mom.  She’ll say no.”

What’s the fun in that?

Now, as an adult, I constantly hear, “Don’t ask your mom.” This isn’t in relation to making the foolish and childish decisions of my youth.  Instead, it is around garnering feedback for my inventions.

Every inventor wants to know if other people find their idea as revolutionary and brilliant as they do.  But, common advice is that you can’t get an honest opinion from your mom, your friends, or your spouse. Moms like everything you do. Friends are too polite to hurt your feelings. Your spouse would buy anything you are selling. Yet, it is important to know before you potentially invest thousands of dollars in developing an idea, if other people will find it attractive.

So, what’s an inventor to do?  I came across this issue with one of my first inventions, Canister Clips.  My test market was literally my friend, Martha, the secretary at my school.  She is extremely nice and always supportive. I knew she would fall squarely into the “too polite to hurt my feelings” category.  I gave her a free sample of my clips to try on her bagless vacuum and she told me they were wonderful. But, was this an honest assessment?  Would she really pay money for them?

I have devised a few approaches to obtain accurate insight into the thought processes of people from whom I request constructive criticism on my products.

The $20,000 question is my number one go-to.  It occurred to me as I was walking into school to get Martha’s feedback.  I had been told the day before that I was looking at a cost of at least $20,000 to get my Canister Clips manufactured, assembled, packaged, shipped, and ready to sell.  So, my question became, “Should I invest $20,000 to get these made? Do you think people will buy them?”

When I asked Martha, and others, this question, I got much more thoughtful responses then when I asked my previous inquiry, “Do you like these?”

Most people don’t realize the investment in time and money to bring a product to market.  They have visions of Shark Tanks successes, selling millions of Snuggies, and George Foreman commercials.  But, when confronted with the reality that the inventor has to put up significant cash and take a big risk for an uncertain return, they start to think more critically.  Martha’s response went from, “Wow, what a great idea,” to “Well, I don’t really use them that much.”

The moral of the story?  Make people feel helpful by asking for business advice.  Give them a chance to protect you and you will break through the typical polite responses to get some honest and realistic answers.

Another way to get quality feedback is to ask a question that requires more than a yes or no answer.  My Canister Clips are small clips that can be added to a vacuum in order to secure a disposable bag for neat emptying of a bagless vacuum. Instead of asking someone if they like them, I offer three or four vacuum accessories and pose this question. “Which of these do you like the best, and why?” or “Rank these accessories from most to least useful and explain why.” This also works while designing a product and choosing new features.  With Wedgy, seen on Make 48 Season 2, we gave friends and family a choice of colors and asked them to rank their favorites.

You can also get helpful feedback by asking people to rate your idea on a Likert Scale.  Use an even number so people can’t choose the middle of the road. Again, this gets people beyond just telling you whether they like your product and provides insight into just how much they like it.  A variation on this would be to ask people how much they would pay for it. It turns out my Canister Clips seem to be worth about $2.67. While I am still convinced it is a great idea and a wonderful invention, it turns out it was not going to be the invention that would make me my first million.

So, after all of this, you may be wondering what my mom actually said about Canister Clips.  Yes, I did ask her. For Canister Clips and all of my other invention ideas, her answer to whether I should spend $20,000 to “take a chance on a winner” has always been a resounding and very motherly… “No.” 


David McCutcheon is a team member from Season 2 Team D.a.D. David is an educator, who has spent thirty years teaching in the Maryland area, as well as an inventor. He is the owner of www.inventiondad.com, where he blogs about inventing and his Make48 experience. David has won awards as well as brought an invention to market, www.canisterclips.com. To watch David and his team create the winning product, The Wedgy, visit our site to catch all Season 2 episodes.

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