Monday, March 2, 2020

5 Steps To Get You From Your First Idea To A Business

idea-to-a-businessOne thing I have learned the hard way in business is that implementing new ideas is usually much more difficult than conceiving the idea in the first place. That’s why I caution my aspiring entrepreneur clients against proclaiming to investors that they are a great “idea” person. The bridge from thinking and talking, to doing, is a long and difficult one for many to get over.

For example, I have a friend with a Ph.D. in Physics who talks passionately about starting a business producing nuclear powered batteries. I have tried to convince him the general idea alone does not make a business.

His challenge is to focus on one market, with a specific design, cost, and price. Then, he'll need to patent it and create a plan to show opportunity, competition, and financial projections. Yes, there are a lot of bridges to cross.

In addition, creating a business requires leading and interacting with other people, including partners, investors, and customers. Finally, implementation requires a commitment of real money and other resources that can’t be written off so easily as an idea ahead of it’s time. Yet there are clearly some positive steps I can recommend for getting you (and him) over the bridge:

  1. Find a co-founder who has been there and done that. At least the first time around, it pays big dividends for an idea person to find a partner with the business skills you haven’t tested yet. Don’t assume you can outsource the implementation decisions. You need someone you can trust and learn from every day, with equal “skin in the game.”

    For example, I often cite the case of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, who grew Microsoft together. Bill was initially the idea person and technologist, while Steve had the business and marketing experience from Proctor & Gamble to close the business equation.

  2. Create a written plan, with target milestones and metrics. I have found that the process of writing down your idea, with a plan for implementation, and reviewing that plan with a business advisor, will force you to learn and acknowledge the real requirements for implementation. Target measurements allow you to assess your business progress.

    I find the best business plans are not books, but may actually should start as a one-page “elevator pitch” that succinctly encompasses your business goals, problems and solution, opportunity, competition, and business model. A full plan may be no more than 20 pages.

  3. Take your time in moving from your idea to a business. Aspiring entrepreneurs are often impatient in rolling out the business, assuming the hard work was finalizing the idea, and that if you build it, customers will come. The reality is that building a business always takes longer than anticipated, so don’t quit your “day job” until revenue is flowing.

    These days, even with the pervasive Internet and social media, it still takes time and money for your marketing and customer communication efforts to have an impact. Build your own personal brand image through blogging, industry forums, and networking.

  4. Build a strong team around you and learn from them. Don’t make the mistake of relying on interns and family members to do the work. Hire only qualified team members you can trust, and listen to their feedback. Your good idea can come from you as one person, but a good business requires a team. You must also learn from your customers.

    Only a great team, and listening to customers, will allow you to adjust as you learn more, or the market changes. Every startup I know, no matter how good their idea, has had to make one or more changes or pivots, as they adjust to the challenges of the real world.

  5. Expand your own learning and knowledge by helping others. Once you have achieved some success as an idea person who has implemented a business, you can broaden your positive impact by mentoring and coaching other aspiring entrepreneurs, supporting worthy causes, writing a book, and speaking at leadership conferences.

    In the example I mentioned earlier of Bill Gates, he tells everyone that he has continued to learn about business from his philanthropic efforts, as well as funding more leading-edge innovations, including clean nuclear energy and global health breakthroughs.

After these steps, you too can proclaim yourself to be an idea person, with no jeopardy. You can now argue, as I do, that starting and leading a business is not rocket science, but it does require the confidence and leadership to continuously make decisions, work with other people, and the humility to recognize that continuous new learning and change is required.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 02/17/2020 ***