Commercialising an invention or innovation is about more than just taking what could be a great idea to market, says Ludwick Marishane. There are a number of critical steps you need to get right even before you have a viable business, he says.
Marishane invented DryBath Gel, a proprietary formulation of gel that cleans the skin when applied, when he was just 17, making him South Africa’s youngest patent-filer.
He has since turned his invention into a thriving, multi-million Rand business and his current focus is commercialising DryBath globally.
Marishane is also the founder of Headboy Industries Inc., the product-development and commercialisation company aims to become the home of African innovation as well as provide global solutions to global consumers.
Marishane shares his 7 biggest lessons he’s learnt from commercialising his big idea and innovation
1. Solve A Problem
Commitment to the problem is really the key in innovation, Marishane says.
“I think that’s the core difference. In startup lingo it’s what you call a pivot. So, even in innovation are you following evidence that says try this, or try that?”
“But you need to have a clear reason for ‘why’ beyond just ‘it worked there therefore it’s going to work here’. You need to have a mind-set of ‘I’m going to see if [my solution] will work here. If it doesn’t, I’m going to see what needs adapting for it to work here. And if it doesn’t work here at all, I’m going to stop doing it.”
2. Follow Where The Process Leads You
It’s all about trial and error, says Marishane, and adds that sometimes the solution you had in mind is nothing like the solution the problem actually requires.
“The best book I’ve read on this is Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship, he emphasises that problem-solving aspect that you need to look at a business as a scientific experiment – ‘I have a theory that if I do X and X, I can produce value’, either I can solve a problem or I can make an experience more enjoyable for somebody. That’s my first hunch.”
3. Make Sure That You Are Solving A Problem People Want Solved
A critical step in commercialising your innovation is making sure that you find out if people are interested in that problem being solved in the first place, he says.
“So I have to go find out, the people that I’m solving this problem for do they care? Because you might be solving a problem but no one cares about that problem. If the people say ‘yeah, we actually want that problem solved’, you need to ask, ‘do people actually want to pay money for that problem to be solved?’. Then they might say yes or it might be no, it might be maybe – they might be willing to pay but at a certain amount.”
4. Take Into Account The Cost
It’s not enough to have people that want your solution, make sure that the numbers work, Marishane says.
“Then go and ask how much would it cost me to solve this problem for them? And is that price lower than what the people are willing to pay. If it is lower, I potentially have a business – I have a market, but it’s not necessarily a business yet. If my cost is way more than what the people are willing to pay, then my question is can I get my costs to get below that? If there’s economies of scale and if I reach a certain amount of scaling, would I then be able to be within the price point that people are willing to pay? Then I might have a business.”
5. Get The Best Team To Help Build Your Business
Marishane says when you’ve found a solution that your market is willing to pay for, you have to ask yourself, “Am I the best person to solve that problem?”. To build a successful business, you will need people who are skilled and capable of commercialising your innovation in the best possible way, he says.
“Just because there’s a problem, you can solve that problem, there’s somebody who wants that problem solved and that person is willing to pay more than what the problem cost you to solve, you may not necessarily be the best person to solve it. So you still need to ask yourself that. Do I have a team to actually solve this problem?”
6. It Is Rarely Going To Be An Overnight Success – So Be Prepared
It’s a trial and error process, Marishane says, and you need to start with a learning mind-set. So if anything, if you are trying to commercialise an idea, give it time.
“Even if you are the best person to work on this problem, how long is it going to take for the implementation of this whole mechanism to get into place. With me and DryBath, it’s been 8 years and we’re not where we want to be. Our target is to reach a R100 million in sales within the next 10 years. So, I have to look at that and say the opportunity I’m working on, once it does or if it doesn’t work out at the end of the day is it going to compensate me for all that time it’s going to cost me to get there.”
7. Take Advantage Of Pre-Sales
You know you are onto a winning idea if you have people willing to pay you immediately for your solution that will only be delivered at a later date, Marishane says.
“You look at businesses that are still able to do that, established businesses like Apple that are able to release a phone and pre-sell 5 million [units] before they deliver. That fundamentally tells you just how valuable that business is. How valuable a problem it is (whether its problem or not), society has demand for that solution that they’re selling.”
“So that’s what you want to mimic as an entrepreneur – say ‘which idea can I get that answers all those questions and also gives me a moment of truth where the customer is willing and happy to pre-pay before I build the solution’. Because then I don’t need funding. The customer literally pays for the product. If you still need funding for the business, it might be a good idea if it’s going to take 5 or 10 years but then it needs to be a big idea.”