The Business of Invention, Entrepreneurship, and Good Fortune: Anecdotal evidence for the resilient self-starter & the madly motivated

The Business of Invention, Entrepreneurship, and Good Fortune: Anecdotal evidence for the resilient self-starter & the madly motivated

Being creative can be both incredibly fortunate and simultaneously a curse. Specifically, your ‘creations’ are your babies, and like babies it’s not easy to swallow if someone calls them ‘ugly.’ Similarly, being a business owner is not for everyone, this fact is a not-to-well-kept secret. Someone very close to me once asked me ‘Why would anyone want to own their own business?’ In that moment I didn’t have a great answer. In fact, I didn’t have an answer at all. After a few days of vacation, a few days on the tractor, and a few 'Blue hour' days in the treestand I would eventually come up with it though. The answer then, and the only answer I have to this day is, ‘why would anyone not want to own their own business.’

If you know anything about the business of the inventor or of business generally, or if you’ve read or listened to anything by Guy Raz, then you know that inventors are great at solving problems and coming up with new ideas. Those ideas however, are typically sold or licensed to someone else (another existing business for instance) who will have what most inventors lack, namely “...the time, resources, [and] ability” to be able “ [start a] business themselves” and bring that product or service to market. Design patents protect the invention and inventor for fifteen+one (15+1) years; utility patents for twenty+one (20+1) years. The plus one (+1) year protection on these intellectual property rights represents the ‘extra year’ that is gained by most patents that first are filed as what’s called a preliminary patent, aka ‘patent pending’ status. Many an idea has died on the proverbial vine while the inventor struggled to execute their idea. Let’s briefly turn and look at these three aspects, time, resources, and ability.

Time is the most valuable thing [you] can spend” - Theophrastus. This is never so prevalent as when you have children. No matter what you accomplish in life; no matter how hard you have, or think you have worked; no single life event is better at humbling you and giving you the impression as though you have been lazy prior to having kids, as after you have kids. Among the ironies of having children is that by having less time, you become much, much more motivated to both recognize and use the time you do have available in a more efficient manner. Anyone determined to be a good parent, a present parent, a full-time parent, can relate to this. Time is challenging for other reasons as well: It’s not an exaggeration to proclaim that the majority of inventors have day jobs and moonlight as engineers and thought leaders. Let’s move on now to resources.

Resources come in two primary forms; Capital (Money) and Partnerships (employees, suppliers, vendors, Mentors with business acumen, etc). Let’s talk about money first then. The reasons why an inventor will typically need a business, or why they would sell or license their idea instead of bringing it to market themselves is simple. In fact, there are 120,001 reasons why. The first $120,000 reasons are the the combination of +/-20k for each patent, and +/-100k in start-up capital for tooling, materials, packaging, shipping etc if you’re talking about products; Equipment, land, lease, buildings, etc if you’re talking services; and marketing, website, SEO, etc in either scenario. The final reason is business acumen that an existing business brings. Unless the inventor has also owned or currently owns a business, chances are the business they sell or license their idea to has more than just one person working for it. We can also safely assume this business already has an established supply chain, human resources, accounting, sales, customer service, IT, and track record of successful execution. Let’s now briefly discuss ability.

We reference ‘ability,’ but we do so in the abstract. What we specifically mean by ability are actually four (4) core competencies: Knowledge, Skills & Abilities, and Other (KSAOs). Knowledge comes in a few forms. ‘Know how’ and ‘Know what’ are chief among them. What you know, say about starting and running a successful business could mean you’re well read on the subject. The problem is anyone, and we mean anyone, can ‘start a business’ that has negative cashflow or that spends more than it earns. Knowing how on the other hand necessarily means you’ve done it at least once and are more equipped to replicate that success. Seeing someone else do it is a great way to learn and those experiences you can draw upon, seeing it done is oft times not enough to give you the best chance at success however. This is why, as Adam Grant laments, “Don’t confuse experience with expertise. Having faced a problem doesn’t guarantee that you’ve mastered the solution. Don’t mistake expertise for wisdom. Having deep knowledge doesn’t guarantee that you know when it applies.” Similarly, being able to build an engine doesn’t make you a racecar driver, just like being a driver doesn’t mean you always know when to metaphorically tap the brakes in other aspects of life. Let’s now discuss required skills of the entrepreneur.

Skills & Abilities amount to a set of capabilities. Skills include both soft-skills and hard-skills required to be successful. Hard-skills of the entrepreneur will vary and can be learned in the classroom or through OTJ (on the job) training, oftentimes both. Soft-skills on the other hand, are personal skills such as focus, resilience, results oriented, attention to detail, determination, and perspective taking. If you’re going into business for yourself you’ll need suppliers and possibly manufacturers until you have enough revenue to bring some or all of the operations in-house. To accomplish this you’re going to need to make a ton of calls and be resilient and determined as you're brushed off or turned down time and time, and time again until you find places willing to work with you as a small start-up. Likewise, If your goal is to manufacture quality products then you’ll need great attention to detail, and as E. Musk says “...[the product] can’t be a little bit better, because then you put yourself in the shoes of the’re always going to buy the trusted brand unless there’s a big difference.” You’ll notice too that Musk is referring to consumer psychology and perspective taking. Focus too can be a skill and an ability. An ability to focus means time on task, for some it’s an obsession ever-present on their mind. The other side of the same coin is being results oriented. Simply spending a lot of time reading and researching without producing any results won’t cut it. In academia they call this ABD, All But Dissertation, because after all nothing gets done if nothing gets done. At some point very early on in the process the rubber needs to meet the road, you need to stop strategizing, stop talking, and start doing. In short, you need to lean towards ‘get shit done.’ Let’s shift gears now and discuss what we mean by ‘Other.’

By ‘Other’ we’re referring to traits that aren’t necessarily captured by the previous categories. Most notably and widely researched would be personality traits, but also include values, intelligence, work style, leadership style, and degrees and certifications. In terms of personality the Big Five personality traits are Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness to Change, and Extroversion. Conscientiousness, the extent to which an entrepreneur is well organized, is a predictor of not only job performance generally, but entrepreneurial success specifically. Agreeableness, Openness to Change, and Extroversion/Introversion seem to matter far less. This leaves us with Neuroticism. 

Humility resides on the opposite end of the spectrum from Neuroticism and by proxy, self-absorption. In terms of leadership, nobody enjoys working for someone who is full of themselves. Other than social implications of scoring high on Neuroticism, there are other practical concerns as well. Egotistical people have the tendency to burn bridges by vastly over-stating their own would-be accomplishments while denigrating or downplaying the work of others, oftentimes without, or in spite of the facts. Megalomaniacs will, without hesitation, ignore the truth and instead rely on ‘alternative facts’ that exist only in their own mind. The bottom line is you either can measure the outputs that you're relying on or you can’t. If you don’t have those numbers, then you’re making shit up (oftentimes painting themselves in a better light than the reality on the ground). The other issue that neuroticism presents is the tendency to be so over confident, and yet this result is primarily the direct result of an internal insecurity, as to overlook or dismiss what others can teach them. Lessons that could ensure their success as an entrepreneur. Psychological traits other than personality come into play as well. We’ll briefly discuss those now.

Predispositions of the psyche play a crucial part in the likelihood of small business success. While some entrepreneurs report slight to moderate mania as being beneficial to the initiative of starting a business, the same cannot be said for bouts of depression. Depression, manifesting in the form of anxieties, worry, and doubt will lead to risk aversion at best, and lack of motivation and/or immobility at worst. If there’s one thing a successful entrepreneur cannot be without is motivation. Other psychological traits that are beneficial for the aspiring entrepreneur include, but are not limited to the following: risk tolerance (if you’re unwilling to put large sums of your own money on the line, then this isn’t the business for you), internal locus of control (believing that your actions have an important impact on outcomes also goes without saying), self efficacy (thanks to A. Bandura we know the importance of one’s belief in their ability to accomplish something and how much it matters in a practical sense) , and last, but certainly not least, social/emotional intelligence (Many books have been written on this topic. Fascinating that few people are really great at thinking what someone else is thinking and get it right). Knowing what we now know about just how unlikely it is to both invent a new product and bring that product/s to market, it begs the question, how did HangryBrand do it.

Those of us who were here at the inception and when HangryBrand started can testify to a few things. Firstly, the level of reward an entrepreneur can expect is directly proportional to the level of risk they themselves are willing to take on.  What cannot be overstated is that we were certainly not risk averse. We took our life’s savings and threw caution to the wind. If there’s one thing for certain it’s this. If you’re willing to spend your life’s savings and throw caution to the wind, you’re never going to do it half-assed. Secondly, another aspect of successful entrepreneurship, and successful leadership (according to Kouzes and Pozner) for that matter, that wasn’t expressly discussed, but does permeate through much of everything we do is having an unlimited supply of passion, rigor, and stamina. With the risk of losing its importance, since the word gets thrown around about as much as ‘being authentic’ does these days. Nevertheless, passion, rigor, and stamina are critical in both the day to day (taking pride in one’s work and producing quality, finished products), as well as in big picture contemplations (mission, vision, values, purpose). There’s another truth as well, a truth that can be difficult for many to admit. That truth, in a word, is luck.

Call it luck, call it chance, call it good fortune, call it what you may, we were lucky. Lucky that we could self-invest and not rely on outside venture capitalists that would want - and frankly deserve - a large stake in the company. Lucky also that we were born where we were born and lucky that we grew up with a family interested in the outdoors and in outdoor hobbies. There are more truths: We were too naive, or too hard headed, possibly both, to even consider any other way than to make it all a reality on our own. Lucky that we have understanding spouses and children, nieces, and nephews. Lucky that they too are crazy interested and involved with building a brand, growing a company, and taking mad risk.

At the end of the day our success, the success or failure for that matter - of an inventor or entrepreneur - may boil down to one ‘super-power’ they either possess or they don’t. What’s more important above all else...being family-centric, work-a-holics and works-in-progress. The business of Marriage; of Family; of Friendships; of Patents, Ideas, and Entrepreneurship, are all, are after all, relationships you work diligently at, or things you don’t.

Fortunately yours,

Mike Hiller

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