Solowheel hover

By Jia Wertz

Remember the hoverboard fad? eBay was selling the number one gift every 12 seconds thanks to celebrities like Missy Elliot, Jamie Foxx, Wiz Khalifa and Justin Bieber. In 2015 alone, 2.6 million hoverboards were sold. And then, due to a series of unfortunate events, the entire hoverboard market was declared dead.

You would think, Shane Chen, the inventor of the original hoverboard and patent holder (he eventually licensed HoverTrax to Razor), would be a billionaire by now sipping the most expensive tea in the world with Elon Musk. Chen isn’t doing that. He lives in Camus, WA and drives a Volt, not a Model X.

Chen’s the first to admit that he didn’t play his cards right. Lesser quality and lower cost knockoffs quickly saturated the global hoverboard market, eating into his potential windfall. But he didn’t throw in the towel; that’s not what true believers do. Now known as the Thomas Edison of rideables, he has a clear vision for his future, and has learned a lot from his past mistakes.

Chen shares his top five lessons learned through his entrepreneurial journey while inventing the hoverbaord.

Never Compromise Your Core Values

For Chen, his core value is quality; and he wants his rideables to provide a magical experience for his customers. “You can’t have these kinds of experiences with cheap parts and labor,” says Chen. “You’ve got to oversee the entire process from conception to packaging.”

No matter what stage of growth your company is in, it’s never too late to establish your own core set of values, as Chen did. The hardest part is embedding these ideals through every part of your company, from operations to budgeting.

That’s why it’s important to identify your company values, get them on paper and get your team excited about them. They will not only define your corporate culture and set the tone for how you conduct business, but will also serve as a check and balance to attract like-minded employees to your company.

Be Strategic With Your Partners

To compete, Chen needed to move faster while keeping his quality standards high. For rideables, a typical 3D-printed prototype was not feasible. Chen required a manufacturer who could produce the actual working rideable, and get it back to him quickly for testing and further iteration. This would require a more nimble manufacturer with a great deal of capability, capacity and high standards.

When looking for a great business partner that you’re aligned with and can trust, it’s critical not to rush into an arrangement you may regret.

When you’re ready to find the right partner, make sure to have crucial conversations before signing on the dotted line. Share your processes in advance and be transparent.

Ask potential partners about what values drive their business decisions and seek examples. You may even need to give your partner some skin in the game in the form of equity or profit sharing.

Today Chen has a strategic agreement with a single production partner where he oversees every aspect of design, production and packaging of his latest invention, the Solowheel, an electric one-wheeled self-balancing rideable. With a 31-mile range, the unicycle is the smallest, greenest, most convenient “people mover” ever invented.

Know That Failure Leads To Success

If you’re not failing, you’re not going to succeed. Failure is simply part of the process on the path to success.

Chen says he has had too many failed inventions to count, but for every ten that flops, one is total magic. “With every failure, I fail less,” he says. “As long as I’m learning and adapting throughout the process, nothing is ever a true failure.”

Leadership consultant and coach Susan Tardonico recommends these five strategies for dealing with failure:

Don’t make it personal

Take stock, learn and adapt

Stop dwelling on it

Release the need for approval of others

Try a new point of view

Create A Great Team

Chen used to handle every aspect of his business himself. Today he surrounds himself with seasoned business people whose strengths he can learn from, and vice versa. He humbly admits that he’s an inventor, not a business person.

“There’s a misperception that technical founders can run companies and grow businesses,” he says. “Running multi-million-dollar business deals takes a great deal of knowledge and experience. You may be able to invent a flying car, but that doesn’t mean you know how to market one.”

Marketing Matters

A recent WIPO study showed that nearly a third of the value of products come from intangible capital such as branding and design.

Chen learned the hard way that he had to do more than just create a breakthrough product to succeed. If he had a strong marketing plan for his hoverboard, he may have been able to drive brand awareness. Chen said he’s not going to make the same mistake with Solowheel.

If you don’t focus on marketing and branding, your customer won’t connect with you on a deeper, emotional level. You’ll have to compete on price alone, which is becoming more and more challenging. To build a premium brand, you’ll want to make sure you identify the core audience of your product, the product differentiators, and drive thought leadership and awareness.

Don’t let your competition walk circles around you because you have a great product but no winning marketing strategy. A successful marketing plan has these important components:

Describe your company’s unique selling proposition (USP). It’s a descriptive sentence that articulates what your business does. As an example, Domino’s Pizza’s USP is “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free.”

Define your demographic. Who are your customers? What’s their age, gender, education, employment status, what kind of car do they drive, do they own a home, are they married, etc.

Describe your product’s benefits.

How are you going to position your product for your audience and what are the channels you’re going to use to get that message out?

Get the word out. While digital marketing may work magic for certain customers, it may not work for everyone. It’s a good idea to use a mix of digital marketing, advertising, public relations and direct marketing.

Chen is following his own advice and has built a great team, and has a marketing push for Solowheel that’s as swift as his 18.8 MPH electric unicycle.

Jia is the CEO and Founder of Studio 15, a socially responsible fashion brand. Follow her on Twitter @JiaWertz and LinkedIn.

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