Most inventors believe 'if we build it, they will come.' In reality, building a business is often harder than inventing the product.
BY MARTIN ZWILLING, FOUNDER AND CEO, STARTUP PROFESSIONALS @STARTUPPRO
Do you have an invention that you believe is worth a million dollars? In fact, it could be worth much more than that, if you are able to use it to kickstart a successful business.
Unfortunately, many inventors I know are stuck at this stage, being great technologists, but not so great as entrepreneurs. As a result, their inventions languish and never make them a dollar.
In fact, contrary to popular opinion, my experience as a business advisor tells me that building a business may actually be the hard part, compared to coming up with an innovative new idea, or even inventing the solution to a hard problem.
You see, inventing a business is about attracting money from investors and customers, rather than spending money on a challenging dream.
Most advisors I know can only name one or two inventors, like James Dyson or Thomas Edison, who single-handedly become successful businessmen as well. Dyson, for example, created more than 5,000 prototypes before he perfected his bagless home vacuum technology with a constant suction.
Then he was able to turn his genius to business and now has a $6.5 billion net worth.
If you consider yourself the consummate inventor, but haven't yet broken through on the business side, I urge you to consider the following alternative keys to long-term success that inventors before you have capitalized on:
1. Team with a business and marketing partner.
Many inventors like to work alone, and are convinced that if their solution is amazing enough, investors and customers will come. In reality, the days of people finding you by word-of-mouth are gone. You need people with the same innovation in marketing that you have shown on the technical side.
The Apple computer was really "invented" by Steve Wozniak, but it was the marketing and sales efforts of Steve Jobs that really led to Apple's success. Don't let your ego or fear prevent you from achieving the amazing business impact that you know is possible.
2. Don't aim for perfection before rolling out your invention.
For the serious inventor, a given solution is never good enough. There is always the urge add just one more feature or enhancement, which makes the product harder to use for the average customer, more expensive, and delay introduction. It also increases your marketing and support costs.
I urge every inventor and entrepreneur to adopt the minimum viable product (MVP) strategy. This approach emphasizes getting the product to market early, and making enhancements based wholly on customer and competitor reactions, not what you like.
3. Switch your focus to expanding the market infrastructure.
Often the challenge on the business side is not in selling your technology, but in providing the infrastructure. For example, electric vehicle technology has been around for decades, but it took Elon Musk to focus on standardizing battery technology and making charging stations easy to find.
4. Target a higher customer need and ability to pay.
You may have a technology solution to eliminate world hunger, but hungry people rarely have money to pay for the need, and governments don't make good customers. The Segway personal motorized scooter is a great piece of technology, but most people just didn't find it worth the cost.
5. Formalize your intellectual property position.
Many entrepreneurs are reluctant to complete the work to secure a patent on their invention, citing cost and secrecy concerns, only to find that investors lose interest when they learn you have no long-term advantage over potentially aggressive competitors. A business must have a sustainable win position.
6. Emphasize simplicity versus level of change involved.
I find that inventors are fond of referring to their new technology as "disruptive," or a major advance. They don't realize that both investors and customers see big changes as more risky, big learning curve required, and slow to be adopted. Save your technical bragging for the experts.
7. Sell or license your invention to an existing company.
Of course, this alternative requires you to swallow your pride, give up visible ownership, and likely forgo that financial bonanza you have always envisioned. Yet the joys of avoiding business survival stresses, as well as a royalty stream to finance future inventions, can be very satisfying.
My advice for every inventor is to remember that your technology creation is necessary but not sufficient to create a million-dollar business for you and your team. Once you have an invention, it's time to put the same passion and innovation into creating a business, or selling it to someone who can do the business work for you.
Only then will you realize the fruits of your labor.
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