‘Attitude is everything. I can teach you everything. I can’t teach you an attitude. If you have the right attitude of curiosity and you want to help, those are the people I hire.’
Stephen Key is the co-founder of inventRight and one of the leading experts on how to license a product idea. He’s an inventor, author, speaker, and entrepreneur.
‘When you think about all the things that bug you during the day, those are opportunities to invent solutions.’
soundIn this episode, we talk to Stephen about
– the right attitude to be a successful entrepreneur
– the importance of community
– attitude vs. skills
– entrepreneur positivity
– cultivating an innovative mind
Connect with Stephen on the following platforms:
inventRight TV: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-2L31LrT3T-OBNLuP_AnHw
John: Thank you for listening to Local SEO Today. Don’t forget to subscribe and share this episode. Joining me today is Stephen Key. Stephen is the co-founder of inventRight and one of the leading experts on how to increase a product idea. He’s an inventor, author, speaker and entrepreneur. Thanks for joining me today, Stephen.
Stephen: Well, thank you very much, John, for having me.
John: Well, I’m excited to learn a little bit about yourself. I’ve read a little bit about yourself but maybe share with the audience members who you are, what you do and what have you been doing for the last X amount of years to get to where you are today?
Stephen: Okay. Well, let’s start at somewhat at the very beginning. I guess I’m an inventor. I think of myself more as a product artist. I think inventing, that’s a really big word and I think you’re thinking of like Elon Musk or maybe Thomas Edison. So, I wouldn’t put myself in that classification whatsoever but what I wanted to do in my early 20s, was to be creative. I didn’t want to work for anybody else and I just wanted to play. And I found a way to do that, where I would come up with ideas,I would look at a company’s product line and maybe one of my ideas would be a good addition to their product line. So, I would study their product line, come up with maybe a small change, maybe a small improvement on one of their existing products and if they like it, they would take it. They would sign a licensing agreement and I would rent it, my idea or license it to those companies and they would pay me a royalty on each and every one they sold. So, basically it’s not a new business model but it’s a business model most people are not familiar with. Most people think that if you have an idea, you have to start a company. Well, I didn’t want to start a company. And I’m not that smart. And I didn’t want to raise money. And I didn’t want to do any of those things. I just wanted to be creative. So, for my career, basically I’ve come up with simple ideas, sometimes those ideas are complex, sometimes they’re silly and I would just show those ideas to companies that need ideas. Open Innovation is very, very popular now meaning companies are opening their doors to look at ideas from us. You don’t have to be an expert and you don’t have to have a background in any particular topic. You have to be creative and see things a little bit differently. And if you find those companies that are looking for ideas that have embraced open innovation, you show it to them, they like it, they pay you. So, that’s what I’ve been doing for my whole career is having fun and getting paid doing it. I guess.
John: That’s amazing. AndI love your attitude too. So, before you got into this kind of get, you know, understanding the whole concept and pitching your idea to these companies, did you go to school for this? Like, what was your background prior? And did you work in the, I would say, under a boss or under a company like…
Stephen: I started out studying Economics at Santa Clara University in California and didn’t like it at all. And by chance, I took an art class just to get away from all that. All that mess and I loved it. I loved working with my hands and at the time, I wasn’t an artist but I thought I was creative. And I went home, I told my dad. I said, “Hey, I want to be an artist.” And he was like, “What?” He said, “Do you draw?” And I said, “Well, no.” He says, “Well, you must like to paint.” I said, “Well, no.” What he said…Well, he gave me some great advice. He said, “Look, if you find something to truly love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” So, he gave me permission to jump off the ledge or the cliff and I took it.I switched over to another university, San Jose State University that had a large art department and realized very quickly, John, I was never going to be this artist. Okay, so once…In fact, I left a little early. I left three units shy. And I didn’t really care I did. In fact, I didn’t even know I graduated. I thought I had and then I just kind of went off, and I didn’t think anybody would hire me. I didn’t have any skills. So, I just started making things. And I loved it. Everybody thought I was crazy. My family, my friends thought I was absolutely out of my mind.”What are you doing making things and selling them at county fairs or art and wine festivals.” Wherever I could put a table up, I would make things out of fabric and sell them and I loved it. I thought I was the richest man in the world doing it. And I learned a lot about people, I learned a lot about that transaction, I learned a lot about creating things that people want and testing those ideas very quickly. Because if I didn’t, I wasn’t able to pay the rent or feed myself. So, it was a great lesson. I’ll never really forget it. So, that’s how I started out. Basically creating a job for myself and that led to reading an article in Fremont, California about the startup company called Worlds a Wonder. They were going to be recreating the first talking teddy bear and the prototype was pretty ugly. I read it on Sunday and I went down on Monday. I knocked on their door and said, ”Hey, you need me.” And that was my first job at 27 years old. My first pay paycheck, my first paycheck. And I learned a lot with two number one hit toys and I spent a lot of time learning about manufacturing and then I left because I wanted to start my own company. I wanted to license my own idea. So, I learned a little bit along the way, but but I’m just one of those guys that I’m curious, right? And ask you, “How do you do this?” I mean, how do you… If I could sell something at a street corner, how do I sell it in stores? And how do I sell it around the world? So, I was just always curious and I found a way to do that.
John: That’s amazing. I love you mentioning like the hard work going to fairs and events and that’s what it takes to learn. And everyone thinks it’s as easy as like, Elon Musk or any of these like Amazon Jeff Bezos like whatever they did was one in a billion, right? Everyone else has to make it through hard work and it takes years to figure it out. And not everyone will be successful, right? So, you just letting people know like, look, you have to pay your bills. You have to figure out what worked understanding what the customers wanted. So, you filled a gap you understood, you tweaked your product, you listen, you asked the right questions, you understood pricing, you understood what customers were willing to pay for what product and then adapting to it. That’s what business is and a lot of people forget how simple it is. They overcomplicate things
Stephen: Yeah, I’m glad you said that because it is very simple. I learned something very basic selling things at street fairs, I learned that you had to create something. It could be simple but something that people want, right? And most people try to complicate it. I just knew that if you had something they want, they would pay for it. So, that’s magical, right? That takes a little bit of time, you have to fine tune it but once you figure it out, that’s really a magical thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a street corner, doesn’t matter if it’s downtown New York, it does not matter. That’s magical. And you have to play with it, you have to test it, you have to be patient. I remember, years later now, I’m in the boardroom at Coca Cola. I’m on the top floor. It’s a round room and 15 vice presidents of Coca Cola around the world are there and I’m giving a presentation to this group. And it brings me back to the day I was at a street corner because it was no different. Here I am trying to sell them a label innovation and get paid like half a penny. Why was that different than being on a street corner trying to sell something I made for $5. It was the same thing. You have to create something that people want. So for me, it’s really quite simple. It’s amazing when you finally figure it out and you play with it but you have to test it and you’re gonna make mistakes. And sometimes if you’re lucky, something will come along and it just works but you never really know so you have to play.
John: And I think all those years that you did it on the street corner, adapting, listening, making mistakes, changing the pricing, changing your messaging, letting…Understanding the marketplace, understanding who your ideal customer is. All these come into play when it boils down to trying to score a bigger deal or a licensing deal. Because all the work that you did prior to that, no one sees.
Stephen: No, they don’t know. People look at some of the things I’ve done now. And they’re like… Well, I’m not gonna say it was hard. It was fun. Okay, and if you don’t really like it, you should probably do something else. I think I would do it regardless, if it was financially rewarding or not. I was gonna do it regardless. And I tell everybody, if you want to go down this road of being an entrepreneur, make sure you really love it, right? And you’ll do well. But if it’s something that you only, you know, you’re totally going to commit to it. Yeah, maybe that’s not the right fit for you. But when it happens and you never really know when you hit that idea. It’s pretty exciting to see people use it. I’ve had a few products that have been on TV, products that have sold around the world. And it’s exciting to think that it’s in your head, right? And then you see it on TV and then you see people using it. I mean, it’s a really…For a creative person it’s clearly the reward. And that I think is what motivates me and probably other people too that do this. Financially it works out well and that’s fine. But that’s not the big motivator here. Now, it’s really seeing your creativity and having people share it. That’s pretty remarkable.
John: That’s amazing. So, growing up, did you have people that really inspired you like how did you have these creative juices? Did you have mentors or people that really resonated with you growing, pursuing what you’ve done?
Stephen: I wish I could say yes but no. I do know this, I was very…As a young child, I love to build models. I had a great imagination. School was not easy for me. So, I think I was running away from my homework to dreaming a little bit. So, I struggled in school and I didn’t know until much later that the people that do maybe learn differently, have a whole nother tool in their toolbox. They look at things differently. So, although it was difficult when I was young, I look at… That has been a big asset. So no, I didn’t have anybody really guiding me. And that’s why I think it’s important for me to write about my experience, to share about the difficulties, and really try to educate the next generation because when I started out, there wasn’t really a roadmap for me. I was very fortunate to meet my mentor in my early 20s when I thought I was crazy too, along with everybody else. And he saw my things that created and he said, “No, you’re not crazy. Everybody else is crazy.” And today, you know, he’s still a good friend of mine. He’s 83 years old, going on 16. He’s still in the game of innovation and it’s a lifestyle for him, he’ll never retire. So…No, I didn’t have anybody and I wish I had someone to guide me a little earlier because I think, I don’t know if I would have made less mistakes. I think mistakes are fine, by the way. I think you have to make them. But having someone there to guide me, I think could have been helpful.
John: Yeah and I’m glad that you mentioned like someone that actually resonated with you in your 20’s that took you on and actually believed in you to actually pursue something because that’s all you need. Because maybe your friends and family thinks you’re crazy. Maybe they are like, “Go get a real job, go support your future.” Right? Pay off that some of that…Live like a normal person but you think you’re normal. All entrepreneurs are different. I would say. All business owners are different. You don’t take the path to ease, like everyone wants a nine to five, get a stable salary, paycheck to pay down the mortgage. That’s simplicity. Everyone that steps outside the box to do something that’s not simple, that is crazy…Will either get rewarded or not. But at least you try, you did something and you know, a lot of these entrepreneurs, they just don’t get it. There’s no way you can kind of just follow a path of like, at what everyone else tells you to do, like, just do something different, be creative, be curious like you’ve done because that’s the only way, right? To see if it works or not.
Stephen: Yeah, I don’t think there’s really any one roadmap. I think the road is very twisted and road bumps and everything along the way. I think the attitude is, I’ll figure it out, I’m curious, I’m willing to learn, I’m willing to make mistakes. I’m going to be very determined, very persistent, have a good regimen. I believe in routine very much so even though, you know, it’s really funny.
I don’t have an eight to five or even a five day a week type of schedule but I do have a routine. And so I use the clock differently. I use time differently. We all have 24 hours in a day. So, how do you do more? I’m really curious about that, too. You know, how do you reach the mountains that you want to reach? But how do you…How do you keep on track a little bit too, right? Because it’s easy to get off track. So, I think having a community of like minded people that you can share maybe your frustrations or maybe your obstacles and have that group support you. I think it’s pretty important. I think it’s easy today because of all the ways to connect with people around the world that have your same…They have the same mission. Right, John? And once you find that community, you kind of help each other. I truly believe in teams, although I’m pretty much a solo entrepreneur but I believe in teams. believe in community. I don’t think you can do anything by yourself. I think you need a lot of help. And I think you need a lot of people that support you. And so yeah, it’s been interesting and I’m still excited about it. Probably more today than I was when I first started out.
John: That’s amazing. I love your attitude, right? Because like a solopreneur or an entrepreneur, everyone…It’s like a lonely space you’re doing, you’re trying to figure things out yourself. You feel like you can do everything yourself yet you probably don’t know what you’re doing 90% of the time and therefore there’s people support, community, people like minded like yourself, same mission, same kind of interests or hobbies and same stages in your career in business as well as network with them like there’s so many online forums, communities on Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever it is. With the internet, there’s a lot more accessibility to a larger network of people globally, not just in your local region, right? And that’s what I feel if you leverage your technology to your advantage, there’s things that are gonna help expedite and fast track or even reduce your failures, right? Make less mistakes, save you on some of the time. I would say like, because, you know, if you did things…It took you five years to do Beta testing, tracking messaging, product, all that stuff. Maybe you shrink it to one or two, with a community where you can test quickly, with a lot of people that are like minded. They can give you instant feedback and everything else can be expedited. And that’s where I feel community plays a huge role in today’s society, right?
Stephen: Yeah, you’re absolutely right! Using the community as a kind of a sounding board, it’s from anybody around the world. I mean, it’s not just your neighbor or your local inventors group or, you know, whatever. I mean, now, it’s a global opportunity. There’s one thing that I’ve learned recently. I want to share that I’m a little embarrassed that I learned this, that touch has 64. I learned this at such… At this time in my life but I learned something that I think everybody needs to realize. Your business is very important and you’re you’re going to focus on it probably too much, but you will. But the minute you do things outside your business, that contribute to other people’s maybe success. It opens doors you could not imagine. You see, I think a lot of entrepreneurs, especially even myself, we’re so focused on our business all the time but the minute we volunteer, we do charity work or we help other other organizations, those other doors start opening up and it comes back to you differently. And so this whole philosophy of giving back, I think, is something that is powerful. And I don’t think we do enough of it. I don’t think I say yes to a lot of people. I say yes to everything and I never know where it leads and I don’t really judge it. And maybe people say you shouldn’t do that. I read somewhere, “Don’t say that.” Well, I like doing that. I like to help and you can find the time, right? But you never know where it leads and sometimes it leads to this remarkable opportunity of getting…Knowing that no other people. So, I’m jumping outside my world more and more as I’ve gotten older and found that it’s…I wish I’d done it earlier.
John: Well, just learning a lot about yourself, right? And I’m not sure if you read the book by Adam Grant, Give and Take. I’m a huge proponent of giving just because in my business, running an SEO agency, we’re all about providing value and giving the most that we can, have a team to help businesses rank online but really, it’s all about like, why would I be doing this if I’m not here to help them grow and expedite their services and reputation online, right? So, giving is a strong foundation. Growing up for me even. But learning that you can mentor you can volunteer, you can contribute in the community by giving advice, supporting one another, helping in mastermind groups, helping your neighbors, the more you get out there as opposed to…Yes, it’s a lonely solopreneur journey. It’s challenging but once you have a team, once you have people that support you, understand where you’re coming from, they’re here to give you real honest feedback, support and advice. And that’s what you need in life in general because that’s what relationships are all about, that’s what family is built upon, right? Communities are built upon and we talk about community a lot but giving is something that a lot of people forget about in their business.
Stephen: Yeah, I had an opportunity a couple years ago. An organization reached out to me to really be part of it and I remember when I first got the invite, “Why would I do that?” And my close family said, “No, that’s an opportunity to get to know other people outside your business.” And we get their perspective. And these were other inventors that were working for companies in the medical field and the high tech but they weren’t financially getting rewarded for their creativity, for their being an inventor. They were helping humanity. So, it wasn’t about the money at all. In fact, there was no money there and to see the great things that you’re pursuing really opened the door for me to think. Wow, I mean, these are really remarkable people doing some great things. Why wouldn’t I be part of that? So, that kind of took off in other directions for me now and I’m really glad it did. I don’t think you’re ever to…I think we’re all students. I think we’re always learning. I don’t think you ever shut that door. No matter if you’re at the top of the mountain. Do you think you are? No, there’s always more to learn, right? I think. Just be curious and…
style=”color: #f8931d;”>John: Yeah, it’s a crazy world we’re in at the moment but also it’s a fantastic world that we’re in and you have to…You have to see the positive and you had to kind of plan for it. You know, I wrote in my journal, what will next year look like, right? And it’s really fun to think that way, right? And kind of say, “All right.” And think it’s through where you want to be. What do you want to do? You know, I know a lot of people maybe do it five years. I think you do it weekly, monthly, yearly, right? That you keep on thinking about what do you want to do? Where do you want to be? And start pursuing those dreams. And it’s never too late, right? Like you’re in your 60s, I’m in my 40s and I’ve been kind of doing goal sessions all my life in sales. And even before that, I’ve always wanted to be better, right? And not just chase like monetary. It wasn’t even that status. It’s all about like, learning what people 40, 50, 60, 70 years of age in enjoyed, right? Like, what takes them to make them become who they were? What made them happy? What would the reasons, the main drivers to keep them going, right? Like, that’s the lifestyle choices they’re always after, right? Like, I always try to mimic people that I look up to having a really solid foundation, good family, happy lifestyle, doing things they love and it’s by choice, not forced, right? And just gravitating towards positivity, people that are happy doing things they love and are ultra positive and want to support one another, right? Like, there’s a difference between givers and takers, right? Once you are known as a taker.
Stephen: You know, it’s interesting that you said that. I think if you find that mission and I don’t think that’s easy to find, by the way. I think you have to try a lot of things and if you do find that thing that really gets you up out of bed. Yeah, is that you? You know, you’re waiting for Monday morning to come around or maybe you’re even working on it on Sunday night because you know, you’re excited about it. I don’t think you ever quit that and the notion of retiring, I don’t…That doesn’t fit for me. I think in my world of people that are creative. They create for the rest of their lives, they never retire and there’s no reason to and I had learned a little bit about that in my early 20’s about that magical part of creating. I said to myself, even back then, “I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life.” I was hooked. I knew it. I felt it. I could see it. So, I was very fortunate. I think a lot of people don’t know what that is and the only advice I would give to someone is try as many things as you can. And don’t expect any result. Don’t expect anything from it. Just open, open yourself up, try it and if it’s something you find you’re passionate about, fantastic. If not try something else. Again, keep on playing with opportunity in life and find that thing that really motivates you because it makes it really exciting if you do. I think that just hits it on the nail where you have to keep going, you have to keep trying, you have to keep doing and looking for things, right? And don’t be…I guess closed off or shut down and rejections gonna happen. Don’t give up. Go pursue something that really resonates with you. Right, like, yes. Stick to your core values. Yes, do things aboveboard. Anyone that supports you along the cause, go out there and get to know what they found to, you know, be their mission, be really making. I’m happy, right? And then gravitate and ask questions. Be curious. Like you mentioned, you always say that, right? Like, you know, it’s crazy. A good friend of mine, a younger man reached out to me after he graduated from college and he was unemployed and he didn’t know what to do. But he had this amazing attitude….That we lost touch for about a year and a year later, I’m watching him because I’m following him, and he’s traveling the world. And things had changed so drastically for this young man. And I remember reaching out to him. He’s a good friend of mine now. And I said, “What happened to you? You were unemployed, not knowing what to do. And now you’re living in New York and you’re traveling the world. What happened?” And he said to me, he said, “I didn’t know what to do. I just…I moved to a city. There is more going on and I just went to work with one of my roommates and I didn’t work at the company.” But I went to work with him and I just kind of hung around and some said, “Who are you?” And he was just…He had such a positive attitude, that he…They ended up hiring him. And I want to tell everybody who’s listening, that attitude is everything, right? And you can teach someone, I mean, to me in my company, we don’t look at resumes, by the way. And that’s probably….I don’t know if that’s how other people do. I don’t look at resumes. I don’t care about resumes. I want attitude. I can teach you everything. I can’t teach you an attitude and if you have the right attitude of curiosity and you want to help and you have that ability, that they really, really want a lot out of life, you know, you just really want to be there. Those are the people I hire and those are the people that I’m really attracted to. So, it’s not about, “What you’ve done in the past is what are you going to do in the future.” So, I try to tell everybody that maybe they’re struggling, they don’t know what to do. Knock on any door with an attitude, they’ll hire you. Because that’s priceless and that’s something that I value tremendously. I saw this in this young man and he had the attitude that he was willing to take anything on. and it turned out remarkable for him. And it was just attitude alone because everybody’s always worried about, “WelI, I don’t have experience.” Or maybe, “I’m not right for that job.” Whatever. It doesn’t matter. You can learn anything. But the attitude is everything he has.
John: It’s all in the mind, right? Everyone thinks that they need to be perfect before they apply. Oh, I didn’t check all those, you know, all the duties and requirements. But I..For myself included like, I’ve always been in sales all my life and I would walk into stores asking, “Are you hiring? Can I?” And they would hire me on the spot because I was very proactive, very easy going, good positive attitude and very just excited to be a part of something, right? And they saw that. And that’s all it takes. You don’t need the best resume, you don’t even need a resume, you need to just show up. If you don’t show up and ask and be curious, like you mentioned, you never get anywhere and pursue anything that matters in life.
Stephen: No, you’re absolutely, 100% correct because there was a time where my royalties had stopped and I got the letter from the company. And my wife said, “What are you going to do with my office manager? What do we do now?” And I said, “Let me think about it.” And the next day I came in there and my office manager was a graphic artist. I said, “Put all your work in a portfolio.” And I just walked out the door. He said, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to get business.” He says, “Well how?” I said, “I’m just gonna knock on people’s doors and say…Hey, how can I help you?” And it started, he was a little…He’s still with me now over 21 years. He says, “I never forgot the day you just walked out the door. And I didn’t know what you’re going to do.” I just knocked on people’s doors and said, “Hey, this is what I do. Do you need any help? I’m here to help you.” And I started back up, getting a lot of work again. I wasn’t afraid of it. I wasn’t afraid to say, “Hey, look, I’m here to help you. What are your problems?”
John: And I like your attitude about that because I think you can do that anywhere at any time. If you’re truly an entrepreneur. I’ve told my wife many times, you could drop me off at the end of the street and I could walk down the block and I would have more work than I would know what to do with. If you just ask people, right? Where are their problems? What’s happening? Because if you think that you can help and you’re curious…Every company needs some help and that’s the power of knowing your strength as an entrepreneur. That’s the power of being positive, that’s the power that you have. I can tell that you have that same power. And we have to ask for opportunity, we have to knock at an opportunity. Be yourself, be someone they wanna be around, be someone, you know, when you knock on that door you’re bringing something to them, right? And they’re going to see that and they’re gonna notice that and I don’t think people realize that energy, that being positive, caring curious, being helpful that’s what makes business go around. But, it sounds like you’ve done it, you’ve lived it. It’s hard for entrepreneurs to understand, right? Or business owners or people that are starting off because they have grown up in this digital age. They’ve been really behind the scene on social media or they’ve been watching youtube videos. So, they lose touch on the social interaction to really acknowledge, speak to someone, look at them in the eyes, you know, handshake, right? Really understand the behaviors of people and get to the root of their issues, right? Understand what their needs are, ask the right questions so that they become more vulnerable to then allow you to fill the gap, right? To see which opportunities exist for you to help them but people lose that social interaction more than ever today, like a lot of introverts a lot of people that are…They don’t have the skill-set that you and I probably possess, right?
Stephen: Yeah and then it’s funny it’s called social media and it’s not that social at all. To tell you the truth, that’s kinda funny. And even the companies that so called tech companies that are involved in social media you can’t get a hold of them. So, something really wrong about that but I wanna mention one thing some of the…When I was a younger man, I did door to door sales and people hate that and that’s one of those jobs that people probably hate, right?