Inventor or salesperson? The best entrepreneurs are both.

One of my earliest memories was watching a slicing, dicing, chopping demonstration all afternoon when I was 3 years old in the Woolworths in Newton Abbott, Devon. I was mesmerised by the whole process – the patter, the speed that vegetables, fruits and roots were reduced to cocktail foods, the clamour of Devon housewives and their husbands fighting to buy at the end of the demo in a recession hit 1970s Britain.

I was as excited by the demonstration as I was by the pigs in the market next door.

Pigs - not at a market

Pigs - not at a market

Slightly less time ago, just before the first internet bubble burst, I was flying home from Chicago and picked up a bunch of magazines including the New Yorker on the flight. I have to admit the cartoons never really made me laugh as much as they probably should have and I am not sure I would buy it for the articles. However, I read an amazing and long piece about the people who invented and then sold all those magical kitchen gadget things you see being sold on Oxford Street, in markets, on QVC and department stores. It took me back almost 30 years and also made me think.

What I didn’t know until I read this article was that the original demonstrators were also the inventors of the products and were from several generations of the same family. The ‘pitchmen’ that appeared on QVC, and consistently broke the QVC hourly sales records when they did, had actually invented the things that they were selling.

I thought about this again recently when I was talking to some entrepreneurs who were actually inventors who had not yet become entrepreneurs, though they show every sign of being them in the future. They had all developed different versions of cool things and were then thinking about who should sell it. Sometimes the stuff that is invented is cool enough for this to work but it is very rare.

The New Yorker article showed that the pitchmen and successful inventor are one and the same person. You have to haveĀ  an end user in mind when you make stuff, and you have to love it enough to be able to sell it. If you do, nobody can sell it as well as you.

I wanted to find the article to share it and after 15 minutes of Googling managed to find it. It was written by a writer that I predict big things for, Malcolm Gladwell. If anyone has any doubt as to who the best person an entrepreneur can turn to to sell their stuff, or if they just want to read a great story, I recommend this.