Here are a few tips to help your idea go somewhere. These are guidelines to ensure you don’t become that grumpy old guy/gal who blames everyone for their problems in life while claiming that they ‘invented’ the Internet/CD/mobile phone/computer mouse/[insert random groundbreaking invention here].
Here’s how to avoid becoming the disgruntled drunk in the corner at the bar:
Nobody likes working with a jerk. Most investors and funders would rather give their money to someone they look forward to seeing. Work on your attitude. Be positive and optimistic, but realistic. An invention is nothing without a team and the team doesn’t need a jerk. Your idea might not be the best idea in the world – live with it when people tell you that, remain positive and courteous, and it might actually turn out to be a success.
I’ve said this before: don’t think the world owes you anything because you’ve come up with a killer idea. It’s not a killer idea until the world says so.
Don’t be married to your idea. This is the #1 killer of good inventions – innovators who think they know everything there is to know about marketing, funding, manufacturing, human resources. You don’t know everything – get over it and make sure you’re a functional part of the team.
If there’s money on the table, think very, very carefully before turning it down. An untested idea is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it. Most of the time, my advice would be to take the money and start using it for Version #2. Remember, your strength is not in coming up with a single good idea. You and your ideas will be worth much more in the market if you’re continually coming up with sensible ideas.
Take ‘No’ for an answer sometimes. This ties in with the first point. People in the know, know. Listen to them and feel free to ask them what their opinions are based on. But don’t get discouraged and don’t get rude. Ever.
Read the story of General Jan Smuts to see how a farm boy from Africa who only started school at age 12 became the guy who founded the United Nations, the Royal Air Force, become one of the most highly regarded law students in the 600 year history of Cambridge, and was tipped to become the Prime Minister of Great Britain if anything happened to Winston Churchill during WWII, after having fought against the British earlier in his life. Willpower and perseverance are greater predictors of success in life than any other metric, including IQ.
Again, don’t be over-paranoid. You’ve got to trust people at some stage in the process, but make sure you work with reputable outfits and that you’ve got your bull$#it detector on full-blast. Remember, these people are also taking a risk by investing in your product or by investing time in working with you. Also, be courteous and always be gracious in accepting or declining offers. Never slam the book shut and storm out of the meeting room when negotiating with people who are trying their utmost to help you – that happens in movies, so please don’t repeat it in real life. Most investment communities are small and incestuous – you’ll be cutting off your nose to spite your face and pretty soon there won’t be anyone left willing to work with you if you’re given to theatrics.
Know how to work with your IP attorney. Sure, he or she seems to charge a lot, but they can certainly charge you more if you put undue pressure on them by neglecting your deadlines or giving them incomplete information. This is a great way to rack up enormous patent and trademark expenses – waiting until the last minute to respond to a directive issued by the patent or trademarks office issued months earlier. Usually, you are granted a few months to get a reply back to them, but there are heavy penalty fees payable for each month that you go over the limit, up to an eventual final deadline. I’ve seen portfolios where these penalty fees (and the penalties imposed by IP lawyers for last-minute instructions) make up many thousands of dollars a month. Don’t get caught in the trap of filing or responding late, or putting crazy pressure on your IP lawyer.
Avoiding The Inventoring Mindset
Many inventors have a personality type that is markedly different from the entrepreneurial mindset, and if you find that you’re struggling to develop your invention because you suffer from ‘inventoring’ symptoms, it may benefit you to read up more about the entrepreneurial view of the world and see how that could feed into your own success. With the ‘inventoring’ mindset, you make the mistake of thinking that the product is the business. That’s unfortunately hardly ever the case – rather, the business is the business – the systems, the people, the marketing, the management, and, you guessed it, the IP.
Once again, there is nothing wrong with being the inventoring-type, as long as you can see the bounds and limits of the inventoring mindset, and know that at some stage you will have to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset – although they share some common elements, they are different in many respects, which will be touched on in the next chapter where I provide guidelines and best practices for making your idea a success.
The Story of Steven
Building a business is not easy and there’s a lot of talk that goes on before anything happens. Do not think that people will be so enamored with your concept that they will beat a path to your door. It is hard work to get a product to market.
One of my favorite examples of this was a young inventor named Steven. Steven was running a successful business that his father had started a few decades earlier, but Steven had always felt that he want his own spot in the sun. Can’t blame him, that’s normal.
So he came up with an idea in the electronic document security field, useful in the field of banking.
A patent search didn’t throw up any damning prior patents, so he decided to file his patent application with me. As soon as I file a patent application for someone, I ask him or her what the next step is going to be; it’s always interesting hearing what the inventor’s next plans are.
In Steven’s case I immediately realized he was heading for disaster. His master plan was not to go out and knock on as many doors as possible, or use every single connection he had in the document security or banking world to try and get some interest in his product, or work up a presentation to give to funders to set up his own company and get out of his father’s shadow. I could see the gleam in his eye when he told me with relish that he had spent months planning the next step: now that the patent was filed, he was going to sit back, wait for the representatives of the banks to phone him, get them all to sit around a long table with him at the head of the table, and watch as they bid against each other for his brilliant idea.
I realized he was doomed. And I hope that you can see that this is not a viable business strategy either. But it embodied for me the immense misapprehension that inventors sometimes labor under – that their idea will speak for itself and that anyone who doesn’t think their idea is the best thing in the world is either a fool or out to swindle them. And that cosmos must reward them for their sheer brilliance.
Inventors are a noble breed and I admire them greatly – they have changed the world for the better. I’ve found that most of them feel that they want to leave a legacy, want to give something back to the world. They want to live a life that matters. Interestingly, they’re usually not driven by money, but rather by a need to help others. But there’s usually a need for recognition that represents the other side of the same coin. I have found this alike with top academic researchers who go down the road of invention, as well as with backyard inventors. They want the world to be a different place because of their efforts, and hope that the world will, somehow, express its gratitude in return, whether that be in terms of money (mainly) or fame or recognition. This makes it a very, very personal and intimate process, the inventing game, and they increase the stakes in their mind to unbearable levels. Once again, I’m most likely dropping rapidly in the popularity stakes as you’re reading this, but it is such a prevalent problem which no-one else talks about that I’ve decided to rather vent it here and deal with the fall-out.
Before we get too depressed about all of this, let’s look at some interesting research conducted recently that shows how true entrepreneurs think. Many of the attributes of these entrepreneurs are what distinguish them not only from corporate managers, but also what distinguish them from the hard-core inventorying personality that can also limit the development and growth of your idea.
I’ve also included some of the top habits of successful innovators and entrepreneurs that I’ve come across and that have been reported and commented on by others in the innovation and entrepreneurship game.