Invention and profit should go hand in hand. The three steps to success are 1) create a better product to fill customer’s needs, 2) secure intellectual property (IP) rights including filing for patents if appropriate, and 3) make and sell the new improved product for market leadership, sales, profits, and increased capital valuation. Sometimes an additional step is the final outcome: 4) sell—or “flip”—the company.

As prime examples of buyouts, you might go the route of LinkedIn and other companies acquired by Microsoft. LinkedIn’s sale price was $26.2 billion. The number 26.2 happens to be the number of miles in a marathon. You know those runs for charity? Imagine a pledge of $1 billion for every mile. I’d do a marathon for that, wouldn’t you?

Microsoft has made 36 major acquisitions in CEO Satya Nadella’s first 2-1/2 years. That’s triple the number of acquisitions made by predecessor CEO Steve Ballmer in the previous 2-1/2 years.

Smaller companies like LinkedIn can be more nimble, more creative, more profitable than the behemoths of industry. They succeed on their own. Sometimes they grow. Sometimes they get bought. Either way, not a bad result.

LinkedIn leveraged over 1,000 patents and substantial additional IP to attract the buyout. It was a win-win for both the smaller company and the larger one.

Startups often hope for seed funding or crowdfunding. Maybe you’ll find an angel investor or a friendly crowd. Good luck with that. And be careful.

The typical startup is bootstrapped: You put some money into the startup—along with blood, sweat and tears—and when you make some money and generate some cash flow, you reinvest it. You’re building “sweat equity.” It’s a long way from there to attracting venture capital, a buyout, an initial public offering (IPO).

Once you are generate substantial revenues and real growth, you’ll have plenty of opportunities.

The right way to build and succeed in business is to start with the customer’s needs. Develop, that is, invent, the new improved technology. So many people want to skip that step! They want to patent an “idea” and take it to the marketplace to rake in easy money.

But it takes more than an idea to get a patent and make a buck. It takes an invention. Try it out in secret and see if it works. Often, that’s where the real work begins (Wendell Berry)–it’s in solving the unforeseen problems to make it work. Often that’s the secret of success in patents and in business.

Patent the invention. Sell the improved product.

Aim for market leadership secured with IP. Generate sales, revenues, profits. Build a business.

You might attract investors (Warren Buffet famously thinks in terms of buying into a business) or even a buyout.

Or you might be satisfied with revenues, profits, and increased capital valuation.

Either way, it takes three steps: Invent, patent, sell. In that order.