I've been doing this for so long now that I can't remember what life was like before. The significant changes have been in my confidence (I used to be a timid little mouse), and in my income. I haven't let the latter change our lives dramatically. I've provided well for our retirement and given our kids help getting onto the property ladder. Having money does give us choice - and that is a luxury we've never had before. I wasn't brought up to be frivolous with money but we are learning to treat ourselves a bit. We bought a pad in central London, to cut down on commuting and, a little place in Provence - just for fun!
Sometimes it can be lonely. That is one of the drawbacks of working on your own, you don't have the social aspect that the work-place normally provides. Also, working from home, it is very difficult to close the door and switch off from your work. I recently set up a company and now I work with partners, which is brilliant - but I'm still based at home. So, I have the best of both worlds.
As an inventor the tax and pension systems are loaded against you. A person with a normal job receives a steady income every year and makes pension payments related to each year's income. If you are a full time independent inventor then you may spend years, whilst bringing an idea to fruition. In those years you earn next to nothing. However, when you eventually license a product or bring it to the market place, suddenly your income soars. Your income may not continue at that level so that money may have to provide for development of future ideas. Nevertheless, in that good year you have to pay a huge chunk of tax but the amount you can put into pension is capped. If it had been earned evenly over the years then overall you would have paid less tax and could have paid more into your pension. It would be so much more helpful if the system recognised the plight of the inventor. If your good year's payment could be taxed as relating to the preceding years of work and maybe providing an allowance for development of pending ideas, then the system would no longer be loaded against you. If you could back-pay money into pension as if it had been earned in those preceding years then this would in turn reduce the tax burden. I think it would be a good idea if special consideration was given to anybody whose line of work means that their income is not evenly spread but consists of intermittent lump sums.
Government funds are available but it is practically a full time job applying for them. These include funds for projects that are still in the conceptual stage where no development prototypes have been made. This strikes me as daft because no self-respecting inventor is going to apply for funding before doing some preliminary work to see if the idea can work. It's like Catch 22. Big investment money is available from VCs and small levels of investment are available from business 'Angels'. There used to be a gap in the mid range but now more financiers are recognising this market. The credit crunch and recession haven't helped but, if you have a strong business plan and can show buyers' intent to purchase your products, it is still possible to get investment. I haven't found that banks (in the UK) live up to their promotional material - they advertise that they support small businesses and start ups but, I still hear stories of them taking a hard line. So, to answer your question - in the past I've had no investors, just a bank loan secured on my house. My new business will have investors and we are also applying for a grant.
There needs to be an organisation which would lend its weight to the case so that it is no longer a David and Goliath situation, where the rich and powerful win. If David were armed with a bazooka instead of catapult, he wouldn't have to rely on miracles. It is currently unfair that an independent inventor has to use his/her own money, and risk losing their house, in order to enforce their patent rights against a multi-national corporation. So much depends on the quality of legal representation, and big corporations employ the top people - it's not a fair fight and, in the UK, the loser ends up paying both sides' costs. The multi-national therefore infringes, confident that the inventor is unlikely to litigate. Even if an infringement action is initiated, it is unlikely to reach the court.
If we have a patent system that is open to everyone, then we also need an enforcement system that is accessible to everyone.
Family wise, everyone has been great. Nobody has ever suggested that I pack it all in and get a real job! My husband, Steven, has always had unquestioning faith in me (or, if he's had doubts he has kept them to himself! Even when I've been spending very large sums of money) I couldn't have done it without him. He has been the uncomplaining rock on which I have unloaded all my worries and insecurities. When you are working on your own, you do need to unload! Sometimes, I make a conscious effort to keep it to myself - but he always knows. Our three children have always taken great interest in my projects and I think they are quite proud of their Mum. Emily has a special involvement because she is responsible for path I have taken. However, recently when I have been going through very stressful times, I think they appreciate having their own homes. My parents are the ones who have surprised me most. When the chips have been down - really down, they have been there for me with a strength that I never knew they possessed. Sometimes, I think that Steve does get a bit fed up with me working often at very odd hours. His patience does wear thin when, for the third day in a row there is no food in the house. Even the dog has developed a profound, guilt-provoking look of quite resignation whilst he waits for me to finish work and take him out.