Prolific inventor Mike Suman shares five startup pitfalls



Mike Suman believes there are five great mistakes that startups make.

The owner of Product and Market Development shared his insights as the keynote speaker for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast series this week at the Salvation Army Kroc Center.

Suman — the author of “Should Your Idea Become A Business?” as well as a developer and innovator of more than 50 patented products — said the first mistake made is when inventors don't thoroughly research their product or their market.

Sometimes, inventors can be overly protective of their idea, their “baby,” he said — and don't want to hear that their baby is ugly and unmarketable.

The second mistake is to only partner with people who share your skills and personality, he said.

“If I’m an engineer, I might say, ‘I’m going to go out and get another engineer, because he thinks like me and understands my life,’ but now you’ve got two people who can’t sell,” Suman said. “That early partnership is crucial.”

The third mistake is borrowing too much money too quickly, he said, highlighting how family tensions come from not paying back money borrowed from loved ones.

The fourth mistake is to not go to industry shows, he said. Innovators must be in touch with their market and their competition.

Suman used the fifth mistake — when the roles of inventor and CEO are confused — to branch into a discussion about the problems of ego in business. Unfortunately, he said, many CEOs are not looking for ideas, but only write a strategy they expect everyone to agree with, often ignoring their own company’s signs of maturity.

Ego eventually leads to expensive legal battles over irrelevant patents, he said, battles that are always more personal than they are wise.

“If they’re spending more money on defending an obsolete patent than they are investing in the next generation of businesses, isn’t that a sign that the lawyers have taken over?” he said. “Last year, I saw one company spend $400,000 that month on patent attorneys to fight the patent on a product that was dead. They get in that fight, the CEO might have some ego involved, the lawyers certainly do. . . . and this is crazy.”

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