Not every great idea makes it to the world stage. It could be outpaced by competitive solutions, not utilised to best advantage or even never get off the ground in the first place. The most common pitfalls inventors face can be summed up as:
1. Not doing basic research
Before investing any time or money in an idea, it’s vital to have a clear understanding of the problem trying to be addressed and where your solution sits in the market. Has anyone else tried to solve the same problem? If so, to what extent? For instance, have any patents already been granted which could hinder your product development?
2. No mock-ups and prototypes
You might have discovered a real problem enough people face, but without having tested your idea you won’t know how well your product meets their needs.
Building a mock-up or prototype with which to experiment allows feedback to be gathered from potential customers about how well the idea solves their problems. You might even discover potential enhancement possibilities not previously considered, which could put your product in an even better position.
Test-customers can also provide more confidence in the idea to encourage you to take the next steps.
3. No IP strategy
Many startups fail due to improper protection of their intellectual property so that they are quickly copied and outpaced by stronger, quicker competition.
Even patenting your invention does not always provide complete protection. If its claims are too narrow, competitors can easily circumvent the patent or if the claims are too wide, it can make it impossible to get your own invention patented.
Decisions like patentability, copyright/trademark protection or just keeping your idea confidential as a trade secret vastly influence your investment needs, risk profile and need for speed.
Always put an intellectual property strategy in place as early as possible – preferably supported by an experienced IP lawyer.
Starting fundraising at the right time is crucial for success.
Starting too early without having a convincing offering or prototype often leads to rejection by potential investors. While starting too late may lead to going out of business before even really launching.
Securing funding can take a long time so aim to start the process six months before the money will actually be needed.
5. Not having the right partners and team
An invention or start-up project can take years, with good and bad times, and ups and downs, which you will only be able to manage by having the right partners on side, supporting each other through it all.
Knowing partners from earlier projects is an advantage, as is having diversity in characters, age, gender and expertise so that everyone complements each other and can bring in their own skills and experience.
Choose your teammates and partners wisely.
6. No business model or plan
A business plan is the blueprint for your success. If properly defined, it will point to all the aspects of the business from value proposition, key partnerships and customer segments through to resources, marketing, distribution channels, cost and income generation.
A weak business plan increases the probability of failure, either by being unconvincing to investors or by missing key elements required for income generation. A strong one helps avoid mistakes, provides foresight and a plan for success.
7. Ill-timed marketing
Marketing too early might lead potential customers to see the immaturity of the offering and lead to them ignoring you. Starting marketing too late might lead to running out of cash as you work to generate a solid customer base and income for financing your business further.
Develop the right marketing strategy early in the process with the help of experts and start executing it at the right time.
8. Lacking execution
Having proper intellectual property and marketing strategies, a solid business plan and prototypes in place will help validate your idea and provide you with guidance. However, you still won’t be successful without the discipline and resilience to execute. Many startups fail as they fail to follow through after ideation and development. The best plans are worthless without execution.
9. Neglecting the business
Once your idea is on the market, attention should turn to scaling, growing, expanding and sustaining the business.
Along the way you need to recognise changes and opportunities to adapt your business model to meet market needs even better and to continue to succeed while pivoting.
Above all else, take care of your customers and employees as they will be critical to success.
10. Not making the first move
Many inventors get discouraged from moving forward for different reasons – no time, no money, no partners, not knowing what needs to be done or how to start at all. But if you’re convinced about your research and it has shown potential, then there’s a real chance of becoming successful. Go for it!
Georg Roth is a co-founder and director at Sciony Limited, an integrated innovation ecosystem which connects inventors, investors and service partners on a single collaborative platform.