Entrepreneurs are bombarded by messages that say success is defined as breaking the mold by being big, brash and unafraid to take chances. No doubt entrepreneurship requires a willingness to take risks and at times be big and brash. However, this romanticized reputation of entrepreneurs is not what really drives success. In fact it leads many pre-preneurs and new startup business to make big, brash blunders they never needed to make. The bottom line for entrepreneurial success does not hinge on learning from just the mistakes you make, but in learning from the mistakes that others made before you. Some of the most common mistakes are easily avoidable in two ways: strategy and common sense.
IT'S A MILLION DOLLAR IDEA
Often the first people we show our ideas to are friends and family, and with great affection they tell you, "That is a million dollar idea!" While friends and family are important to your success, these well-intentioned statements are inaccurate. I recently heard a successful local inventor, Scott Baumann, say "there are no million dollar ideas, only million dollar executions." I completely agree. The idea alone unfortunately has little value, only a properly executed strategy will give you even a chance at that million dollars. So while you build your businesses with the goal of being one of those who makes that million dollar mark, do not let opportunities that look like a short cut to getting there divert you. Remember, "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is." Create a solid strategy for building the business and your odds of actually getting there will improve.
NO ONE ELSE IS DOING THIS
I often hear from new inventors, "I looked everywhere, no one else is doing this" or "I have no competition. I'm the first." Unfortunately, it is a very rare case that you are truly first, just like Columbus was not the first to discover America, and Edison was not the first to invent a light bulb. They just told the most interesting story. Most inventions are innovations on existing products. The fact that an individual can take existing items and see them working in new ways for new markets is amazing, and a growing segment of our economy. In this case, move past your disappointed ego and embrace the fact that you were smart enough to see something others had not.
The false narrative of no competitors extends to any new businesses, not just products. Assume at all times there are competitors and be on the lookout for them. If you are not looking for them they will be looking for you. Spend some time learning what those other people did wrong and your entrepreneurial success potential will grow.
IT'S SO GOOD, IT'S SELLS ITSELF
This is very similar to the "build it and they will come" concept. No product or service is that good, it just means that the marketing strategy was so good you did not realize you were influenced to buy it. If you do not have a solid plan for developing the idea, a strategy for marketing and managing the money, an entrepreneur will quickly find themselves out of the last one. Having business experience is not necessary, but it means a strategic partner is needed. The common mistake inventors and entrepreneurs make is in believing they'll figure it out as they go or they follow more well-meaning advice to patent it, prototype it and/or market it without validating the idea first. Companies follow a product development strategy and individual inventors and entrepreneurs should too.
In the rush of excitement that surrounds the "aha" moment of a new idea, the desire to capitalize on your spark of creative genius leads to taking action based on a fear that someone will beat you to market. This is when it is important to pause, exercise some entrepreneurial common sense and remember you are not the first with this million dollar idea that will sell itself. Then start creating the strategy that will allow you to avoid any big, brash mistakes and instead reach that million dollar goal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is one in a monthly series about topics of interest to entrepreneurs. Lara Merriam-Smith is the program manager for NW Innovation Resource Center, a Bellingham-based organization that supports economic opportunities through entrepreneurial innovation in northwest Washington. It helps inventors looking to take products to market and connects new start-up businesses with resources to help them grow. For more information online go to nwirc.com.