For a number of years I've worked as an advisor to people wishing to start their own business. The saddest scenario I'm regularly presented with is a variant on the "build a better mousetrap" delusion. You know the one - "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door".
Well, it won't. For two main reasons. First the basic idea is no good. Picture the scene.
Inventor/budding entrepreneur: "So I've invented this new moustrap."
Me: "Oh. Good. You're the third this week."
Inventor: "I want to know what you think about it."
Me: "What I think about it doesn't matter. It's what the market thinks."
Inventor: "The market is gagging for it."
Me: "Really? How do you know?"
Inventor: "I've paid for some really expensive market research and everyone says they love the idea."
Me (with sinking heart because I know that market research doesn't work): "Ohhhh-kaaay. Tell me how it works."
Inventor: (producing a shiny, semi-spherical globe about three feet in diameter from out of a brown paper carrier bag): "This is it. I designed at all myself. What happens is you place it in the kitchen where the mice are most likely to be."
Me: "Likely to be..." This is the three word trick to make it appear like I'm interested.
Inventor: "Yeah, the mice are likely to be in the kitchen. Because of the food, you see."
Me: "That's good thinking. What happens when the mouse arrives?"
Inventor: "The array of built-in CCTV cameras around its circumference are rigged up with 360 degree motion sensors. When the mouse hoves into view the front door rises and the "lounge" becomes visible to the mouse. In the "lounge" is a table with an array of ripe aromatic cheeses, meat, biscuits and selected high-fibre vegetables. Behind the table is a micro fan which wafts the aromas in the direction of the mouse."
Me (looking amazed, which in one way I really am): "You've obviously put a lot of thought into this. What happens next?"
Inventor (becoming agitated as his/her excitement builds): "Once the mouse is in the lounge another array of sensors build into the walls work out the exact co-ordinates of the mouse's locus and transmit them via the in-built computer to the high-powered laser."
Me: "The high-powered laser?" (Note the three word trick again).
Inventor: "You got it. The computer calculates the mass of the mouse and calibrates the charge of the laser. Then, at exactly the right moment, the laser terminates the mouse with the minimum of pain. It's an humane mouse-trap you see, that's its unique selling point."
Me: "Good. Good. I like it. It's got a unique selling point. That's very good."
Inventor: "Then the conveyor belt transfers the cadaver to the rear of the capsule where the microwave cooks the carcase for fifteen seconds on a high setting."
Me (frowning): "Is that long enough?"
Inventor: "Plenty. All the trials have shown that the average-sized mouse will be cooked medium-rare. Tender, succulent and still slightly pink in the middle to be precise. Remember, we already know the body mass of the mouse so we can adjust the cooking time to make sure it's perfect."
Me: "That's good. I think that might be important."
Inventor: "At this point the perfectly-cooked meal is transferred to a purpose-built serving dish accompanied by a side order of French fries. Then another hatch opens in the rear of the trap and the plate swings out where the owner's cat is waiting to eat the prepared meal."
Me: "How does the cat know when the meal is ready?"
Inventor (Looking puzzled for a moment): "Good point. We'll need to rig up an audio signal of some sort."
Me: "A bit like Pavlov's dog?"
Inventor: "Exactly. Except it's a cat of course. Anyway, the point is my invention is also environmentally-friendly, nothing is wasted, everything is re-cycled. And, the clincher is that you cut down on cat food bills. The device practically pays for itself in about six years."
Me: "Brilliant. Listen, your invention is so good I must take you along to meet my colleague Mr Prendergast. He'll love it. The thing is I'm an expert in business-to-business transactions. He's more into business-to-consumers which is where I think this application is most likely to find success."
Inventor (looking grateful): "I knew you'd love it. Everyone the market researchers showed it to said they would buy one. I'm going to be rich, aren't I?"
Me: "Erm, possibly. Look, that's his door just along the corridor there..."
In reality of course the device won't sell because:
1 All those people who told the market researchers they'd buy one already have an old spring-loaded moustrap their mother gave them years ago as a wedding present.
2 If you've got a cat you won't have mice
3 Most people with mice put down mice poison. Mouse traps are old technology - their time is long past.
But the main reason the mouse trap will fail is because the inventor has spent all his money developing the idea and has nothing left over for the marketing budget. And marketing is the key to success for any new product.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I've invented a new mouse trap of my own. It's a novel and it's called A Half Life of One. I've put all my energies into developing the thing and whether it's brilliant, indifferent or a potential blockbuster I'm still doing practically nothing about marketing it. The culmination of my life's work is languishing on my other blog, neglected and alone. I'm starting to feeling guilty about it. I need to do something or it's going to go the way of the mousetrap.
I'm going to be travelling for a couple of days but when I come back I'm going to have another look on this blog at the ways I can market my masterpiece to the waiting world.