In my experience, inventors aren’t interested or aren’t very good at building a business, and entrepreneurs aren’t usually good scientists. These people need to find each other, and can jointly make a great team for a new startup.
Historically, it’s also not often that a good inventor was also a good entrepreneur. Some now argue that even our entrepreneur heroes, like Thomas Edison, really cheated on the invention side. Only a few great entrepreneurs of today, like the young Bill Gates, seem to have elements of both sides. Even he had some great help from Steve Ballmer, a real marketing guy, and others.
I’m convinced that this is because the personal characteristics required for these two jobs are quite different. For example, here are a few of the attributes that come to mind for a good inventor:
- One idea, one focus. They have perseverance, based on a strong personal conviction that something is possible. An inventor has to know precisely how things work. Inventors build solutions to a problem, and they relish in the success of having solved the problem.
- Good with details. If you have ever written a patent application, you know it’s all about details, linkages, and causes vs. effects. Good inventors love to diagram out all the details, algorithms, and get their reward from finding new ways of getting things done.
- Creative and artistic. You have to give the creator some resources, time, and throw in some food once in a while, and a “completed design” will appear in due time. Then they are done. They hate sales and don’t understand what making a profit even means.
- Realistic if not pessimistic. Every inventor, programmer, musician, and artist will tell you that you can’t schedule invention. They won’t commit to a completion date and always dream of an unlimited budget. They expect many attempts will be required.
Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, have a complementary but different set of strengths and weaknesses:
- Lots of ideas, can’t focus. Most good entrepreneurs are idea people and can flood you with ideas. The reason they can’t focus is that they haven’t yet flushed out all of the half-baked ones. When teamed with someone who can focus, things work, and a lot of wasted effort is avoided.
- Likes the big picture, not good with details. An entrepreneur always has a “vision” of a bright future. But many fail, or have lots of stress because they don’t like to deal with the details. They tend to leave the details to others, who don’t have the vision or the skill, so the business suffers.
- Good at starting a business and selling. Every entrepreneur reads everything they can find on running a business, maps out all the steps in their head, or explicitly on paper (business plan). They love talking about their business and their product, and dream of having millions of customers.
- They exaggerate and are too optimistic. Exaggeration, pipe dreaming, and denial are the tools and comforts of the trade of entrepreneurship. The psychological source of this “always at the edge” may be an addiction to adrenaline, the pleasure/high of “pulling it off” at the last minute, or the high that victory brings.
For a successful business, it takes the discipline and creativity of an inventor, as well as the vision, planning, and optimism of an entrepreneur to create customer value. So if you’re an entrepreneur, find yourself a frustrated inventor and likely both of you can find more success and happiness.