“If you want a recipe for a startup that’s going to die, here it is: a couple of founders who have some great idea they know everyone is going to love, and that’s what they’re going to build, no matter what.”
– Paul Graham
As an inventor, it is all too tempting to fall into the “trap of the idea.” What we mean by this is that inventors and businessmen alike often end up with a kind of tunnel vision, such that they ruthlessly pursue their exact idea regardless of what their market has to say about it. The passion most inventors have about their project is so strong that their invention soon becomes an extension of themselves, and criticism of the project is often taken personally. The old “If you build it, they will come” attitude soon pervades the mindset of inventors, until they truly believe that if they could just get the project perfectly right, down to every minute detail and exact feature, the market would finally be held in awe of what they have created, and everyone and their mother would be calling in orders.
Sometimes this is the case, but it is a lot less common than you might imagine. The Segway Scooter, invented by Dean Kamen, is an example of this phenomenon. Discovering a breakthrough technology that allows gyroscopes to monitor the rider’s center of gravity about 100 times a second, Kamen decided he would use it to build a revolutionary transportation device, and that’s exactly what he did. Thanks to an absolute ton of media hype and mystery surrounding the project, and also thanks to the futuristic look and feel of the device during a time (2001) when the world was hungry for such space-age devices, the project was a moderate success. An inspiring story to be sure, but not a scenario every inventor should hang their hat on. What is most important to remember is that a business lives, thrives and dies by one thing and one thing only: Demand. With orders in hand, you’re sure to stand, when orders slow to a crawl, you’re sure to fall. With that in mind, let’s examine a few of the errors that can cause orders to slow to a crawl, and how to avoid them.
Neglecting to identify your target market is a common mistake among new inventors. We see very unique and creative ideas from very smart people all the time and one of the biggest predictors in early success is whether or not they know whom they will be selling to. When asked, “What specific group of people will use this, and why,” we are often met with a blank stare quickly followed by a rehash of how awesome and revolutionary the product is. If you cannot identify the exact kind of person who will pay money for what you are creating, do yourself a favor and dedicate some time to figuring it out.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson an enterprising inventor can learn is to be flexible and open minded about your invention. You might have a very helpful invention on paper that will make it easier for business executives to keep track of sales, but if you show it to several executives and they all recommend similar changes to your original design, chances are you should consider them. Since you will be selling to these people, their suggestions reflect what your market is looking for. Failure to adapt to these suggestions and indignantly building exactly what you think is best is little more than exercise in narcissism that is sure to cost you valuable sales. If you are truly committed to meeting the demands of your market, you might consider developing a kind of feedback loop with your customers such that they can make new suggestions to you. These suggestions will inevitably help you to identify how you can rake in more orders and expand your business to new heights, rather than hit a glass ceiling due to neglecting the requests of your customers.
Another common reason why sales do not pour in is a failure to secure widespread reach. “Reach” is your ability to spread the word about your invention and to ensure that your message reaches your target market. Many new companies fail to give this problem proper consideration, and go full speed ahead into production without any idea how they will generate publicity once they have products to sell. Many inventors brush this concern off as a secondary issue, assuming that reach will work itself out naturally once they have their amazing invention created. This is a mistake, as reach is actually of prime importance to any new inventor, and routes to exposure should be carefully thought out and planned before you get too far into production. If there isn’t a clear way for potential customers to discover your product, they have no chance to place their order.
The biggest take away from all of this is that demand for your product is the only factor that will keep you afloat in the long run. It is therefore your noblest duty as an inventor and owner (or soon to be owner) of a nascent company, to make sure that those orders pour in. By identifying your market, adapting to your customers demands, and through ensuring that new customers can learn about your product, you will be establishing your company on a solid, stable foundation with a much greater potential to succeed.
Eric Corl is the founder of Idea Buyer LLC, a new product development company which operates IdeaBuyer.com. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.