11 ways to shipwreck your start-up

Having worked with many brilliant and creative inventors over the last 15 years, we’ve had the good fortune to learn what works commercialising ideas and what doesn’t.

What’s most valuable, is observing what doesn’t work and learning from other peoples’ mistakes.

As result, we’ve compiled a top 11 list of ways to shipwreck commercialisation of your new ideas or start-up.

Disclaimer upfront: generalisations, exaggerations and tongue in cheek comments may be used throughout to really push the message home.

1. “Don’t listen to your experts, what would they know – Use your own gut instinct in areas where you have no expertise”

If you or your organisation have employed or contracted experienced people who are experts in their field then trust them and listen to them.

2. “My innovation is so amazing it will change the world as soon as I release it.  It will go viral. I don’t need a marketing budget”

To get any new product/service off the ground requires a marketing budget and a lot of effort! Do not underestimate this. Your organisation needs to look reputable, not like it’s sticky taped together and may fall apart at any moment. Think about the products you buy and what they look like. You need to be able to cut through other competitors, educate customers and get traction in crowded marketplaces. This takes more time and money than you think.

3. “Have the least customer-focused person on your team (i.e. a techie or accountant) lead product sales or customer negotiations”.

If they have the commercial experience and customer focused attitude fine. If not, then no!

Showcasing the 50 different amazing features your product has is great for boring your potential customer to death. Instead take the time to find out about your customer, what their needs and problems are and then direct your discussion on how you and your product may be able to help them.

Understanding their price sensitivities and that of the market is important in setting your pricing models for different customers. With new technologies, this is especially difficult. It’s not just cost + margin = price.

4. “Trust no one. Refuse to tell anyone about your amazing life-changing idea unless under a confidential agreement”

How can someone really help you, if they don’t know what they are helping you with? A sure way to show your lack of experience in a commercial setting. You don’t need to tell a person all the intricate details which make it unique. You can tell people your idea at a high level, the need it fills, the pain factor it relieves and the benefits.

5. “Refuse/avoid customer input at all stages of development from concept to finished product. What would customers know?”

There is merit in not telling anyone about your innovation until you have protected it and keeping some information about your innovation secret until it has launched. However, your innovation needs to first meet a customer need. So external validation of your idea is important, and an idea of the size of the market (addressing that need), before spending too much money on developing your idea. Customer input can help with refining your idea, provide a downstream market for it and provide important input to your product development plan.

6. “Employ business development and marketing staff after you’ve built your product and you’re ready to sell”

 Business development and marketing staff perform an important complementary role to your development team by engaging with potential customers, bringing in beta testers/trial users, preparing the business and marketing strategy for launch and providing important customer feedback to the development team.

7. “Don’t waste time on getting free publicity from awards, interviews with media and talking at industry events”

Getting your message out doesn’t need to be a scattergun approach, which is why some people see it as a waste of time – as they don’t focus on what award or which media is relevant to their marketing campaign. Take advantage of these opportunities in a focused manner to get much-needed industry credibility and exposure to your customers and potential partners.

8. “Grants are useless. Its cash on conditions”

Grants can provide much-needed cash and connections, they provide credibility to the business with external publicity and can minimize the dilution to your company by investors. It’s important to apply for grants for work you’re intending on doing rather than going to lots of effort to change your direction for a grant.

Applying for a grant can take a lot of work. Then there are reporting requirements. Rule of thumb, if it costs you more to get the grant then the value you’ll derive – forget about it.

9. “Hold a huge patent portfolio, just in case, you never know”

As with any part of your business, you need to have reason justified by how it’s going to help you better sell to your customer, or sell yourself to an investor or protect your position from the competition.

10. “Ignore your market research. Your unfounded assumptions and guesses are correct”

We’ve written on this topic extensively. Do your homework now. You are not your customer. If one customer doesn’t want to buy it, that doesn’t just mean no one will buy it.

11. “Promise features you have no intention of delivering”

This makes customers angry. You kill the loyalty, referrals and credibility.