Conventional wisdom: Get to CES, get some interest in your product, and get it on shelves.
On the Contrary: Don't be so quick to give away control over your ideas. CES is a start, not an end goal.
My main takeaway from the 2015 International CES: There are a lot of brand-new businesses with interesting ideas, and they're selling themselves short. It's easy to get overwhelmed and swept up in all the bright, shiny, high-tech excitement, but that's no excuse to make bad business decisions.
I saw two common mistakes being made by an alarming number of entrepreneurs. The first was thinking that going retail is the end-game for a product, and the second was that nabbing an investor means overnight success. I hate to break it to you, but both ideas are dead wrong.
Don't aim for retail
I get the thinking on this. Being on retail shelves means exposure to a lot of people, and those people get the instant gratification of taking your product home--no ordering, shipping and waiting. But when you go retail, you're essentially paying for real estate on those shelves--expensive real estate.
Remember the last time you went to a big-box store. How did you decide which of the seven different headphones or shovels or waffle irons to buy? Either you came in with a brand in mind, you picked the one with the packaging you liked, or you just went with the cheapest.
When you go retail, you still have to actively market your product. You have to explain to people why your product is best and convince them to buy it--without having any direct contact with them. If you think the store clerk is going to do that for you, think again.
Investors aren't the magic bullet
Whether they're buying your company wholesale or just giving you money in exchange for a chunk of it, investors cost you control of your company. I saw so many sharks lying in wait at CES, hunting down promising ideas from inexperienced entrepreneurs.
Here's the problem: you have a lot of brilliant people with great ideas and no business experience. When you're first starting out, $100,000 or $250,000 can seem like all the money in the world, and a lot of times people are happy to take that (or anything) in exchange for their ideas.
I know I would've done the same thing when I first started out. But selling out fast and (relatively) cheap cuts you off from your business and leaves that great idea, and all the potential it holds, in someone else's hands.
The real trick to CES: DIY
Don't get me wrong--CES is a great opportunity. It lets people see what you've got, and, maybe even more importantly, it gets you access to other people who have been where you are. Look around, talk to people you admire, and don't be afraid to ask for advice.
If you've got a great idea, CES is a fantastic place to test the waters and see what sort of response it gets. But don't be so quick to jump into the shark-infested waters. Whether it's retail shelves or venture capitalists calling, make sure you respond with what's best for you and your business in the long term.