What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from these Four Inventions

chess gameThomas Edison and other famous inventors became rich from their creations. Unfortunately, for every successful invention there are hundreds that never got profitable.

The good news is that aspiring entrepreneurs can maximize their likelihood of success by learning from the mistakes of other visionaries. John Malloy, CEO of Victaulic and former professor of North Hampton University says that it is a good idea to take a look at some of mistakes from other inventors and see what they did wrong. Here are a few ideas that didn’t succeed and the steps that you can take to do things differently.

Flying Saucer Camera

The flying saucer camera was designed specifically for the purpose of helping people take pictures of UFOs. It was obviously intended to be a niche product, but it never took off.

Why didn’t this idea take off? There are a few reasons. First of all, it was priced at a very steep premium. The reality is that few people were interested enough in UFOs to be willing to put up that much cash. The people that obsessed about them probably weren’t the types of people that had a lot of money to burn.

The other problem was the lack of proof that the invention worked. Since so few people even encounter UFOs, the inventor didn’t have any viable case studies to show it in practice.

What lessons can you take away from this? If you are going to try to create a new invention, you need to make sure there was a strong market for it. You also need to make sure there is a realistic chance people will need it, so you can actually present evidence that it works.


The monowheel was probably the stupidest invention ever conceived. Proposed in the mid-1800s, it was basically a gigantic wheel that people could use as an alternative to other forms of transportation.

The reasons that it didn’t work are almost too obvious to list. It was far less efficient than other forms of transportation, including both automobiles and buggies of the time. It was also not nearly as safe.

This should be the number one case study that every inventor uses before coming up with new product ideas. You can’t just give up a new product that seems different. You need to come up with something that serves a viable purpose and is superior to other products on the market in some way.

Twentieth Anniversary Mac

The Twentieth Anniversary Mac was a product that actually seemed like it could have had a shot. The computer was leaner and more efficient than most other computers of its time.

Unfortunately, it was not one of Apple’s success stories. This product didn’t take off for one simple reason – the cost was far too high. It was released to the market with a price tag of nearly $8,000. Keep in mind that this was back in 1997, when $8,000 was a lot more expensive than it is today (which is a tremendous amount of money for a modern computer in any event).

Apple tried lowering the price to sell the initial production of Twentieth Anniversary Macs. The market clearing price was $2,500, which was far less than the cost of production. The product simply couldn’t be profitable at the price the market was willing to pay.

The lesson here is clear. Having a great idea is nice. However, that idea is doomed if you can’t conceptualize it cost-effectively. You can’t expect the market to just meet demand if the price is higher than they are willing to pay. Some prices unfortunately are well outside the average family’s budget, which means that you can’t sell on the economies of scale needed to make the product successful.

Phone Answering Robot

Books like iRobot captured the public’s imagination with automatons. Unfortunately, they also spurred a number of bizarre inventions that had no chance of succeeding. The phone answering robot was one of the biggest flops. This machine was basically a robot that was supposed to answer the phone. But all it could do was pick the phone up and put it back down. It couldn’t take messages or even record them.

The first phone answering machine reached the market about ten years later. If they invested their resources in creating it, the phone answering robot inventors could have been the first. The lesson here is not to invent something around a fad. Create an invention that actually works.

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