Licensing vs. Manufacturing: What’s Best for Your Product?

by / ⠀Startup Advice / December 14, 2010

Profit — it’s the elusive symbol of success that nearly every inventor and entrepreneur dreams of and strives for. Most would agree that this accomplishment is typically reached by the successful placement of your product in the marketplace. But to achieve this goal there exists two distinct paths:

licensing and manufacturing.

Neither process is superior or inferior to the other, but each demands a distinct and separate set of skills and abilities. Play to your strengths! Choose the path that works best for you.

The first step for both is actually the same: studying the marketplace. The old adage “knowledge is power” is hugely relevant here. It is crucial that you gather information on every aspect of your potential product’s market, including the answers to these questions:

  • Who are my major competitors?
  • Who are the smaller producers?
  • What are my potential sales?
  • How large is the market?
  • Who are the primary consumers?
  • What is the benefit of my product in relation to my competition?

In essence, you are forming a business plan through the information accumulated. The more “data” you are able to amass, the more thorough and accurate your business plan is likely to be. Being uninformed or misinformed will result in faulty assumptions and difficulty licensing or manufacturing your product. Studying the marketplace must be done before all other tasks! If you are licensing, this business plan will provide the blueprints for submitting your product to a company; if you are manufacturing, this business plan will help you determine your net profit at the end of the day.


The next step in licensing is “proving” your product. Your work in this initial stage should be directed at answering and supporting the question “Why should my company license and invest in you and your product?” You are attempting to convince a company to pay you a royalty on the wholesale of your product. Before they do so they will want to make sure your product is both worthy and capable of success. “Proving” the worth and potential success of your product can be achieved by creating a prototype or concept drawing of your product. If the technology used by your product already exists in the market (and there is no need to prove that it does indeed “work”), you should create a sell sheet of your idea. This sell sheet should detail your fresh approach, new strategy, or whatever differentiates your product from those that already exist. The important thing to remember is that you are selling the benefit of your idea, not your prototype.

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You will need some form of intellectual property protection for your idea, although filing for a patent need not consume your time and resources. I am not an attorney and cannot give legal advice but here is what has worked for me: File a provisional patent application; it will give you temporary protection without huge expenditures, and you can even file it yourself. My company uses the software Patent Wizard available from Neustel Law. It will walk you through the entire process of writing your provisional patent application.

Be sure to cultivate an air of legitimacy with a professional Web site, business cards, letterhead, and a dedicated business phone line (a cell phone number should suffice). In addition, be certain you understand the essence of the manufacturing steps required to produce your product, so that you may speak intelligently about it to potential licensees and be able to handle any problems with the implementation should they arise.

All of these steps could be accomplished in under 30 days if you work smartly and efficiently.

Estimated cost: under $500


Manufacturing involves taking your prototype and turning it into a real production product. This could include tooling, die making, etc. It is likely you will need to attend a trade show to present your product and introduce it to your potential market.

You will need to set up an office, possibly with several employees, and invest in inventory. You will also need to draw up an advertising and marketing plan to publicize your product and entice customers to buy it. This series of steps could take up to one year.

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Estimated startup cost: $250,000 (even for a low-cost product)

So How Do I Decide Which Route to Take?

Essentially, licensing your product requires significantly less time and money; however, the potential payoff involved is also much smaller. If you license, you have the freedom to live and work anywhere. Licensing demands creativity, resourcefulness, an understanding of manufacturing, and, above all, an excellent ability to SELL.

Manufacturing a product demands a greater investment of time and money, but it can produce much higher dollar returns and can be accomplished on your own terms. Compared to licensing, manufacturing is definitely a more high-risk proposition, but it can be very successful if done correctly. The process demands that an individual possess all the skills necessary to run a small company: an understanding of manufacturing, finance, sales, and inventory control.

Regardless of which path you choose, it’s important to find an experienced mentor to help guide you through the process. Rely on more knowledgeable people in the industry to provide you with invaluable insight; their advice will save you time and money, and may even help shed light on which process is right for you and your product.

It’s important to keep some perspective when trying to decide whether to license or manufacture. Neither will be easy, but if you maximize your strongest skills and abilities, keep your faith in yourself and the potential of your product, and dedicate yourself to success, bringing a product to market is possible. The rewards, personal and professional, are phenomenal.


Stephen Key is a successful award-winning inventor and entrepreneur, having licensed over 20 products in the past 30 years. A holder of over twelve patents, Stephen’s products have sold in Wal-Mart, 7 Eleven, Disney Stores and theme parks worldwide and have been endorsed by basketball great Michael Jordan and Jeopardy host Alex Trebek. Stephen has a new book, “One Simple Idea” due to release March 18, 2011 from McGraw-Hill.

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Recognized as an outstanding leader in the field of innovation, Stephen has appeared on national television numerous times, including an appearance on the CNBC show “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch” and as an expert guest on “Dr. Phil”. Stephen has been interviewed by national magazines, newspapers, and authors such as Tim Ferris (“The 4-Hour Work Week”) and Donny Deutsch (“The Big Idea”). Stephen was also a consultant on the first season of the hit ABC reality TV show “American Inventor”, created by Simon Cowell.

Along with business partner Andrew Krauss, Stephen co-founded , a company dedicated to educating inventors, entrepreneurs, or anyone with an idea the necessary steps to build wealth through licensing. Stephen is also the licensing and inventing expert at (A Dunn & Bradstreet Company).

This article reprinted with permission by

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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