Next week [21st March 2012], I’ll be giving a talk at the Kingston Round Table of Inventors, a thoroughly lovely local inventor group that meets once a month or so at Kingston University, chaired by the well-respected Bob Lindsey. Feel free to come along, everyone’s welcome & there’s normally lively discussion in the Grove Tavern afterwards (a mere couple of hundred yards away), all highly recommended.
Here’s a link to my slides for the evening – feel free to check them out beforehand, that’s perfectly fine by me.
Essentially, what I’ll be discussing, with copious examples from my own security camera company Nanodome, is something that really bothers me: the widely held notion that an Inventor’s quintessential path is to progress linearly from…
- [Invention] (i.e. devising a new way of doing something, or a way of doing something new), to…
- [Innovation] (i.e. turning it into something real, forming a business plan, getting funding, turning it into a business, etc), to…
This simplistic three-step programme is what I call the ‘Inventor Script‘. Yet if you look at the way things actually work out in practice (such as the James Dyson story), you find extraordinarily different paths being followed, and in a vast variety of ways. Moreover, all three ‘steps’ are much more subtle and nuanced than people generally think. What is invention? What is innovation? What is success?
But even if you accept this as a model, the key problem it has is that startup funding (in the UK) is now just plain broken. It’s not just that the banks have left the stadium, or that grants have been rarer than hens’ bicuspids, it’s that angels have become hopelessly unrealistic, with their 10x ‘home run’ exit dreams yanked from US Venture Capital jargon handbook. Even Dragons’ Den has had a substantially negative effect on the whole sector. (And don’t get me started on Venture Capitalists, bless ‘em.)
So, with no serious access to ‘adventurous funding’ on offer (even with the SEIS), I think you can only sensibly conclude that the traditional Inventor Script is also broken. But what comes in its place? Basically, what does the ‘Inventor Script’ 2.0 look like?
I’ve got a fair few ideas about this which I’ll be discussing at the talk. The main one is that to bring inventions all the way to market, you need to be a bit like Superman, insofar as you need to bring a wide variety of business ‘superpowers’ to bear on the challenge to stand a reasonable chance. As a parallel, funding is (loosely speaking!) a lot like Kryptonite in that, as with Superman, it has the power to weaken, control, and destroy you if it gets too close.
So, funding is not only nearly impossible to get, but it can be very bad for your health even if you do get it. And the amount of effort you have to put in to raising funding would – in nearly every case – be much better spent on getting something to market. As a result, I truly believe that you should aim instead to apply your inventive mind to finding ways of building your product-exploitation company without any funding at all! Yes: zero, nil, none.
Anyway, feel free to have a look at my slides and leave comments here. They may well change a bit before the presentation, but the spirit will probably remain intact.
Looking back, I can see now that my startup funding timing was maximally bad. That is, I arrived on the startup ‘scene’ too late for the bear market party, too early for (what is slowly shaping up to be) the Lean Disco. But it is what it is, I am where I am. Hope to see you on Wednesday!