Many aspiring entrepreneurs are jealous of inventors, thinking that new inventions are the key to new ventures. In my experience advising startups, I have found that the invention is usually the easy part, and the hard part is turning the invention into a business. It takes a special kind of person to turn an idea into a business, with strengths often opposite those of an inventor.
In my view, that’s why “two heads are better than one” in starting a business – one with the passion and skill to create an innovative solution, and the other with a business savvy, customer focus, and the ability to build and lead a team. If you think you are one of those rare few who can wear both hats, check your fit against the following requirements:
- Perseverance in business trumps solution excellence. Even the businesses you might think of as overnight successes, including Facebook and Google, took six years or more to get there. Too many inventors I know spend their six years or more perfecting the product, and give up in desperation if the business doesn’t then take off overnight.
- Don’t expect the world will find you due to your invention. Good business people are pragmatists. They realize how hard it is to even get anyone’s attention in the world of the Internet today, with over 100,000 new businesses starting every day worldwide. They keep their priority on communication, marketing, and an innovative business model.
- Building a business is a team effort. You may be able to invent a product alone, but a business requires partnerships, multiple disciplines, and loyal customers. Nothing about a business is rocket science. It requires relationships, trial and error, and constant change to keep up with economic challenges, cultural evolution, and new competitors.
- You need a tough skin and resilience to survive and prosper. Inventors and creative people often have large egos, and hate to fail or be criticized. On the business side, you can’t learn and pivot without feedback, both positive and negative, from customers and stakeholders. The best entrepreneurs wear their failures like badges of courage.
- Selling yourself is more important than selling your solution. Businesses are driven by your team, investors, partners, and most of all, customers. They all need to see you as a trusted associate who shares the same values, more than an expert who can dream up solutions. As a new business, you are the brand before you have a product.
- Repeatable processes are required to scale a business. No matter how innovative your invention, it won’t sustain a business unless it can be built and sold in volume by ordinary people in multiple environments. Inventors don’t always appreciate documented processes, quality controls, and metrics. The business has to evolve as it scales.
- Ability to accept responsibility for factors outside your control. It’s easy to put the blame on product setbacks, the economy, lack of investors, team failures, and customer apathy, but blame doesn’t fix anything. Good business people learn from every setback and find strength and satisfaction from overcoming or dodging challenges they didn’t create.
- Enjoy the journey as well as the destination. If your vision as an inventor is that glorious product, or the gold at the end of the rainbow, it may be short-lived or a long time coming. Building a business is a long-term process of “making meaning”, helping people one-by-one, and overcoming obstacles that you never dreamed of when you started.
There is no doubt that an invention is a good start in business, but it’s only the beginning. If you define invention success as a large constituency using the solution, or large financial returns, that requires a sustainable business. In your new venture, make sure you have with all the right attributes. That usually means surrounding yourself with the right people, rather than trying to stuff it all into one head.