Archive for November, 2011

Dead End Ideas

November 22nd, 2011

Note: this post was originally written for the i2E blog.

Last time I wrote about how to start a business when you don’t have a good idea that hopefully encouraged you to take a step on your entrepreneurial journey. I want to throw in a little word of caution, consider it a sign post to help avoid heading down a dead end road when your mental GPS tells you to make your first turn or two. I’ll discuss some ways you can sift through different ideas before you invest too much time and resources.

So you’ve come to realize that you first idea doesn’t need to be perfect or even really good to start something. Good for you, however, the right ideas really do matter especially if you can tell a story around it. Let me give you a few simplistic definitions to clarify.

  • Creativity = coming up with a new idea
  • Innovation = doing something with that new idea
  • Entrepreneurship =getting someone to pay you for what the new idea does

If your idea doesn’t do something that is valued by someone or rather by enough people to make it worth doing then you don’t have a business. That is why the right idea matters because it must create the right value in a way that is worth it to you. The story part just helps others realize the value that you knew all along.

Now the strength and weakness of entrepreneurs is their willingness to take action off of only a few points of data or observation (sometimes based only on a single thought).  It allows them to be nimble and more responsive than big business but it also causes a lot of false starts.

So how do you know if your idea is worth pursuing?

Well the first thing in case you haven’t done it is to do a quick internet search (Google, Amazon, etc.) to see if anyone is currently solving the problem you think you’re going to solve.  Even if there is someone out there you may be able to build a better mousetrap or find a niche within the larger market. Also don’t forget to check out the US Patent Office. The USPTO system isn’t extremely user-friend but you can find some other sites like Sumo Brain or patsnap that professional legal folks are likely to use.

Beyond that perhaps one of the best ways is to identify a few different ideas that you might be interested in and map out some of your assumptions about how you imagine the business working. I’ll cover the different kinds of assumptions or risks in the future but initially you’ll want to be able to answer a few questions about the customer since without them you don’t have a business.

  • What is the problem you think you can solve?
  • Who do you think has this problem?
  • How do you find them?
  • Who will pay you to solve the problem? (they don’t need to be those who have the problem)

Assuming you can answer these questions go out and find out if you’re right or not. The easiest way to find out is to go talk to the person you think would buy it. I know, I know everyone will want it or maybe you aren’t clear about who your customer is. If either is true for you then you may want to leverage social media to see if you can get anyone’s attention. Here’s a fairly detailed example of how to quickly test and validate your startup idea. That being said there is no substitute for face to face interaction. Remember you’re listening for a problem or pain-the bigger the problem the bigger the opportunity.

Now you may be tempted to worry that you don’t have a product or aren’t ready to talk to a potential customer because you want to make a good impression.  That is understandable after all you want a good brand experience but consider if you head down that road and spend the next however many months and money building something only to find out when you do talk to a customer that they don’t care. When you’ve reached that dead end it won’t matter what kind of impression you made even if your mental GPS tells you to keep driving through that brick wall.


Got ideas for a business?

November 15th, 2011

Note: This post was originally written for the i2E blog.

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Teach It! session of the Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur workshop (anytime you can attend an event that brings people interested in entrepreneurship together from all over the state I highly recommend it). One piece of information that Dr. Rob Wiltbank shared has come up frequently as I’ve met with people who want to start a business. It is this: there are many ways to start a business.

Now I know this doesn’t seem earth shattering at first glance but hear me out.

Dr. Rob Wiltbank at the Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur workshop.Business schools and popular press have long since focused on setting a goal and then making a plan to get there. This is where the traditional 60-page business plan (an exaggeration, I hope) comes into play. Now goal setting and planning definitely have their place; however, this mind-set has inadvertently caused a little bit of analysis of paralysis for those wanting to start a business because they have trouble knowing what the perfect business idea is. “I just need a good business idea” is a phrased uttered by many wannabe entrepreneurs.

Dr. Wiltbank introduced the fact that you don’t need to know the perfect idea. Instead, if you want to start a business then look at what you have (knowledge, skills, network, interests, etc.) and brainstorm different ways you could leverage those things to solve a problem or meet a need. Then go out and talk to someone who you think might be your customer to see if there really is a problem and if you can really solve it. Then take what you’ve learned and decide again if you can solve a problem or meet a need. During the course of listening and learning is when you will really start to see the good ideas become apparent … then you can write that 60-page business plan.

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