Tips from Nathan Cook
Nate Cook of Miller Mayer, LLP knows a thing or two about commercializing businesses. As a local attorney practicing in corporate and intellectual properties law, Cook has worked with numerous businesses looking to establish themselves in a variety of markets. Now, aside from his work as a lawyer, he advises companies on a wide range of business matters and sits on the board of Upstate Capital, a trade association for Venture Capitalists.
When speaking to entrepreneurs looking to turn their innovations into marketable products, Nate has two primary pieces of advice:
- Find good advisors.
- Make sure your primary focus is solving a problem.
The entrepreneurship process is difficult. There are complex legal considerations, complicated financial transactions, and a variety of potential risks a founder must understand and contemplate. Lawyers, former entrepreneurs, or just experienced business people in a given industry could be great mentors to help entrepreneurs navigate the confusion that comes with starting a business. To find this type of help, one can visit incubators like Rev: Ithaca Startup Works or build relationships at networking events.
Cook’s second piece of advice, ensuring that your company solves a problem, is just as critical to a venture’s success. According to Cook, entrepreneurs often ask themselves:
- “How can I license this IP?” instead of “How will my IP solve a problem?”
This, he believes, is a grave mistake. A product can quite easily be both unique and useless if its creators don’t think critically about the needs it could fulfil.
To determine the capacity for a given product to solve real problems, entrepreneurs must explore a variety of related industries and talk with potential customers about their biggest issues and needs. The entrepreneur should not pitch their solution; rather, they should listen to hear if the problem they are solving comes up in the customer’s answers. There’s no point in solving a problem people don’t care about. Cook recommends The Startup Owner’s Manual(link) by Bob Dorf and Steve Blank for those looking to understand the doctrine behind this process, known as customer discovery, and best practices for conducting customer interviews .
Both of these suggestions share one common theme: when starting a business, never hesitate to ask for help. Advice from experts, other entrepreneurs, books, and even customers could all benefit your company’s operations, so leverage the resources as much as possible – not just when an issue arises.
“You’ll need all the help you can get” added Cook. “But help is usually available.”
For more information about Nate or his work, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org(link)