“I wasn’t paid to do this!”
I was watching my daily dose of BBC Breakfast (morning News) a few days ago when the economic news reader introduced this award-winning duo with piezoelectric materials that generate enough electricity to light up LED embedded floor mats or door signs. I have no idea how they managed get on the show, but I was impressed. That is a sure way to get attention from the investors. The demonstration worked and everyone in the studio were mildly impressed. These floor mats were configured in a 2×2 configuration, on a raised platform and the LED lights come on when you step on a particular mat. So, predictably, the witty BBC news reader starts a little tap number, which was followed by encouragement from the other news readers in the studio to play Billie Jean, which in turn prompted a call for the inventor duo to have a little dance, live. This made one of the inventor duo, the geeky one, furious! The music never came on, but he was shouting “I am not paid to do this!”, “I am not dancing!”.Not the BBC footage but I think you know what I was watching.
Genius <> [not equal to] Entrepreneur (or Excellent Invention <> $$$)
So, I am thinking, what a waste of opportunity! Nobody likes a bad sport. Mind you, I would probably have been equally embarrassed, but I was convinced that this chap belongs to what I categorise as “mad inventor”. They are similar to purist musicians. They enjoy the pursuit of the perfection more than figuring out the actual use of the products. I have met many of them in my life. I suppose I was surprised by his quite furious reaction to the suggestion to dance, because I assumed that he had worked jolly hard to get to where he is and to get on BBC Breakfast. He was just mentioning how hard it is to keep his inventions going (he started in mid 80s). I couldn’t catch the expression of the younger one of the duo but I would be kicking myself afterwards. It was a raw rage, to be suggested that his invention and his appearance was to be a subject of light-hearted joke. This story is, in my mind, quite typical of the “missing link” that exists between geniuses and successful business, or between invention and sales figures. I have chosen a career path to make this link. The hardest part of this work is not explaining the product to the customers or investors.
The missing link
When I am working with geniuses, inventors or self-proclaimed entrepreneurs, there is a high probability that I would have to play the devil’s advocate to make some commercial progress. Despite their intelligence, it seems some of the basic concepts of the business world has gone totally unnoticed by these guys. Without mentioning specific examples it might be hard to imagine what I am on about, but very frequently, they become emotionally attached to it. Whatever “it” is, what is very frequently difficult to explain is the fact that they have to let “it” go to make any commercial progress. Whether it is a piece of the design, trade secret or company shares, the logic and intelligence sometimes fly out of the window completely. So, when these geniuses are not able to let it go, they are quite likely to end up being just another Mad Inventor.
Just take a look around. Are the best sellers the best ever inventions? Are they the best product? In my experience, the financial success of a product is decided at the inception of the original idea. Of course, there are accidental successes but if you want to have a go at entrepreneurship, don’t think too much about being the best in the industry, but how to produce a sellable product. You must also be prepared to let it go. Most likely, the product will perform better if you let someone else sell it. It helps if you can find a partner who you explicitly trust, that he/she will promote the product in the best possible way. It will be too hard for the inventor/entrepreneur to sell his own inventions.