Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Inventor's Disease: No Cure, But There Is Hope.

Do you know the single greatest cause of new business failures? If you guessed "under capitalization", you're close, but you're off. The number one cause of business failure is a horrible, crippling condition known as Inventor's Disease. We should know. At Frankel & Anderson, we've seen more than our share of it.

Inventor's Disease doesn't always have to be fatal. But left untreated, it almost always is. Recognizing the symptoms -- and treating them appropriately -- are the keys to its arrest. Neglect, denial and stubbornness are all guaranteed to send any business hurtling toward the grave.

How do you recognize Inventor's Disease? Good question. See if any of the following sounds familiar to you:

It usually begins with an inventor (it could be a software engineer or a mechanical genius) who overhears his friends complaining about something in their lives which currently has no solution. One day, when he/she has heard the same story repeated enough times, our problem-solving demon goes to work on a solution.

Working diligently throughout long days and nights, the inventor eventually produces The Solution. He shows it to his complaining friends, who in turn, show it to their complaining friends. Inevitably, one of the complaining friends takes the inventor aside and says, "You know, you ought to sell this thing! You'd make a ton of dough!"

And so our hero does.

The inventor desktop publishes an instruction sheet and rents a mailbox down at the post office. Gets business cards printed. Maybe a business license so that he can charge sales tax. Pretty soon, his friends buy some product. And their friends buy some product. "This is GREAT!", thinks our hero, "If I can sell this much product to my friends, imagine how many zillions I can sell to the rest of the world!" And being the businessman that he is, he commits his children's college fund to manufacture more inventory so that he can get his cost per product down.

And then it strikes.

As soon as the supply of friends runs out, so do sales. Our inventor is left with a stockpile of inventory. He takes out a few ads, which result in little -- if any sales.

It's too late: Inventor's Disease has taken hold.

In the next stage of the disease, the inventor calls in a sales person, who usually promises to move untold amounts of inventory through "my connections at" any number of big name channel distributors. Taking what's left of his pension fund, our inventor commits even more money to "market development." But because there's no marketing program attached to the sales effort, the program fails. Within two to three months, that money is gone, too.

In the third phase, the inventor -- now profoundly embittered with "professionals who know nothing but cost me plenty" -- finally meets a marketing person who understands that you have to develop a market before you can exploit it. Grudgingly (mainly at the prodding of his friends), the inventor accepts the strategy outlined by the marketing person. They develop a plan. It starts to work.

In the fourth stage, the company is back on its feet -- and the inventor fires the marketing person. "After all," says the inventor, "my invention is the reason this company is even in existence! What do you know about it?"

In the fifth -- and final stage -- the company limps along until, not unlike the Titanic, is swirls silently down into the deep. As it sinks, the inventor stands on the bridge, yelling to a crew that has long ago abandoned ship, "All we have to do is improve the product! They'll buy it! They did before!" Like I said, it's a horrible, debilitating disease. A tragic story.

Unless you're a marketing person smart enough to have brought your own dinghy. In which case, you catch the Titanic before it sinks, pick up the exclusive rights at a fraction of their worth and turn the company around yourself!

Rob Frankel

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