You have all heard the expression that everybody has a book in them! Well I’d go so far as to say that everybody has at least half a dozen new business ideas or new product ideas in them and in many cases these ideas have been kicking around for 5,10 or 15 years and for one reason or other we have never quite got around to moving them forward. Then circumstances change and you find that you are now giving them attention. So what are the common pitfalls and mistakes to watch out for on this exciting journey?
1. Sitting on an idea for years
As already mentioned human nature being such as it is most of us myself included are prone to allowing our ideas to fester and take up valuable mental and emotional energy for years before actually doing something about them, until the weight of living under the mantle of “if only” takes its toll and spurs us into action. An interesting statistic from the great depression of 1929 suggests that in the 10 years after the crash, there were more millionaires created than at any other time in history and I can only surmise that the reason for this was that people were so desperate that they actually tried things and because thousands of people tried things a percentage of them were very successful.
2. Reinventing the wheel
Now that we are filled with renewed zest and enthusiasm we rush blindly into our project without carrying out adequate on line and off line research to see what is already available and only discover this twelve months and several thousand euro later.
3. Premature spend on expensive product design & prototype development
We often spend far too much money prematurely on product design and prototype development before discovering if there is an actual demand, desire and market for our idea. Find this out first and then if you are still getting the green light then spend strategically on product design to help research your project further.
4. Premature spend on patents
We are all a bit paranoid when it comes to our whiz new idea and the first instinct is to stop those pesky pirates from stealing it from under our nose and denying us the millions that are rightfully ours. So we lash out to file patent application straight away. Here is a wake up stat for you- most patents that are filed i.e. 97% actually make less money than was spent on the patent itself. And it is not because the ideas weren’t patentable they were, it’s just that nobody wanted them. The reality of it is that your greatest fear should be that you will spend the next 1- 2 years of your life and possibly thousands or tens of thousands developing something that ultimately goes nowhere. Therefore your objective at this stage is to find out if your idea is a runner as fast and as cheaply as possible. And when I say fast I literally mean within hours, days or weeks. People don’t usually try to steal your idea until you have made a success of it, established a market and effectively removed the risk. It is possible to research and qualify your idea discreetly before filing patent through careful use of non – disclosure agreements and by describing what the product does but without going into detail of exactly how it does it. Thereby maintaining the novelty aspect of your particular design. Once you have verified to your satisfaction that there is mileage in the idea you can then look at more robust patent protection but again done in a strategic way.
5. Not talking to people
We have a built in resistance to talking to people about our idea, firstly it takes us out of our comfort zone, secondly we are afraid somebody is going to steal our idea and thirdly subconsciously we are afraid we are going to hear something we don’t actually want to hear. It’s imperative that you identify clearly and talk to those people who you believe at this stage will be your ideal customers. On average about 50% of your assumptions will be wrong for a variety of both logical and illogical reasons. Therefore it is important that you find out as soon as possible. You must engage with your audience before during and after the development process.
6. We don’t approach it in a systematic way
As such we take too long in discovering if this is just an interesting idea or a real opportunity. Most of them will be just interesting ideas so don’t spend months and years finding out. Not everybody needs to like your idea but your ideal customer does and whether this represents 5, 10 or 20% of the market you need to be able to identify them clearly in order to establish the feasibility of your idea.
7. We take setbacks too personally and give up too easily
One thing is for sure product and development will force you to develop more personally than most other things and in fairness this is probably the greatest gain. It requires a lot of persistence and it also requires us to let go when the signals are there to indicate this. It is necessary to know when to pivot and get out when necessary and simply move onto our next idea. If you adopt this strategy it is only a matter of time before you will hit on a real opportunity.
8. Thinking and focusing more on the product than we do on the customer
At the end of the day it always was and always will be about the customer, the end user. Too much time is spent focussed on the product without adequate regard for the person you expect is going to buy and use it. So make sure you have your priorities right, market first product second, most get this the other way around and end up paying the penalty for it.
So to conclude if you feel you are sitting on the next big thing, don’t wait around till you are too tired to do something about it and wondering” what if”. Follow the process above and take the first step. Ninety five per cent of individuals do nothing it is only the 5% that do. So what you need to ask yourself is do you want to be part of the 5% or of the 95%. The decision is up to you.
Good luck. Terry Daly
About the author:
Terry Daly runs a business called Thinktwice advising Entrepreneurs and SMEs in New Product Development & Innovation Training.