The Problem with Pitchmen (and other shows about inventors)

In: entrepreneur| marketing

24 May 2009

Infomercial superstars Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan have been keeping us all entertained with their new series on Discovery Channel, Pitchmen. Each week, the duo introduce several different inventors trying to get the guys to hawk their wares. They then select one or two and feature them throughout the episode, inviting us along on the taping of the commercial then showing the initial results from the airing of the spot.

The backstories of each inventor is almost always the same. They have invested their life savings in their product, took a second mortgage on their house, and consider this a make or break moment, leading to only huge success or total financial ruin.

When American Inventor was aired for two seasons, they would feature many of the same types of inventors. Invested everything in “their dream” and now cross their fingers, hoping it will all work. Let’s face it, dramatic stories like these tug on the heartstrings and make for great television.

But they also illustrate a dangerous path for entrepreneurs to follow. Success rarely requires every last penny to be put on the line in the beginning. Looking for ways to test out your idea, to dip a toe in the water before jumping in, is a much better approach. In an earlier post, we discussed using a tradeshow to get feedback on your idea. Depending on the product, a craft show or farmer’s market could also provide some needed validation. And Tim Ferris’ outlines several different ways to test an idea, including a great online method, in his best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek.

Even on a small budget, it’s possible to take your idea, put it in front of your target audience, and see if they are willing to break out their wallets, all before you have to empty yours.

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Mark Webster

About Mark Webster

One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.