An inventor is really just a dreamer. We populate the world. But the odds are slim that those dreams will become realities in the lives of those the inventor is hoping to reach. Only a fraction of ideas become businesses, fewer reach an IPO, and even less achieve $1 billion in revenue. For instance, according to Standard and Poor's Compustat, the odds of turning an idea into a billion dollar business are 20,000 to 1!
So, how do you grow from an inventor to a successful entrepreneur? I am speaking this weekend at the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship's "Cowboys, Culture, and Creativity" conference in Ft. Worth, Texas, and I've been thinking about what has helped me grow my business, earthkind, from a dream to the company it is today.
Throughout our journey, the basic business fundamentals didn't change for our business. Instead, what had to change was my perspective as the leader. So what does it take for an inventor to successfully take an idea to market, make it a category leader, and build a sustainable company that continues to financially outperform others?
You're capable of more than you think
Reality is a construct of what you believe. If you think you're lucky, you will be. But, if you believe the world is a terrible place, then that is what will materialize. A difficult childhood gave me a bleak outlook on life, but that all changed when I was awarded a job working for a company that believed in its people. My supervisor told me I knew more than I thought I did, and my perceptions began to shift. I began to achieve results and was asked to lead. This newfound success encouraged me to go back to school, and I eventually graduated magna cum laude. During this time, I began to dream about how I could create a kinder earth. And I finally decided to take that leap to put my energy into my own business.
Inventor lesson learned: Broadening my perspective let me see opportunity in frustration. I realized if it was to be, it was up to me!
Know where you fit
There is a time and a place for everything, and everyone, too. Knowing where you fit in is never easy. Although we may not know what we want to be when we grow up, most of us are fortunate enough to have choices. Thinking big is easy to do as a child, but why do adults so seldom stretch and reach their own true potential?
When I started earthkind, I was thinking big, just like a child, but I couldn't have possibly planned what it has become today. I started small, and went through many evolutions along the way. A major business investment that fell through, changes in consumer demand and a brush with death all worked together to give me the perspective I needed to persevere. But my business finally flourished when I was able to take my passion for finding natural solutions to people's problems and apply it to a problem that deeply impacted people's lives and that I, myself, had known and been affected by.
When I focused my energy on solving a problem that pissed me off -- deterring rodents from my farm that were damaging my property and putting the health of myself, my family and my animals at risk -- I finally found the perfect space for my energy and my company. I worked to develop a natural rodent repellent that was significantly more effective than the alternative poisons.
Entrepreneurial lesson learned: You must keep in mind that success comes when you match up your passion and knowledge with a real problem in the market. It's finding your niche and, once you've found it, pushing forward with all the energy and resources at your disposal.
Know when to say no
We can only do so much with the time, energy and talents we possess. That means time is our most valuable resource, and we have to devote it to what really matters to us and our businesses.
As an inventor, I had clear goals: develop a product that was better than what was available and could stand the test of time; get a patent; and figure out how to manufacture, distribute, and profit from it.
But, as an entrepreneur leading a business growing rapidly, the choices became more complex. Learning to say no became a costly lesson. Once the business had positive cash flow, consultants, marketing firms and all sorts of other experts came out of the woodwork. They promised greatness, but many of them only ended up costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars, without much to show for it.
It took defining our core values as a company to make it easier to know when to say no, amidst all the chaos of fast growth. And, with those core values, both I and my team have been able to make decisions on where we can and cannot invest our precious time and resources with clarity and confidence.
CEO lesson learned: It is crucial to use a disciplined approach to develop a roadmap for success and to not be afraid to say no to anything that strays from achieving your company's core values.