One characteristic entrepreneurs possess is the inherent ability to constantly think of new ideas. I, for one, am always thinking of new ways to use an already existing product, combine multiple products together, or (my favorite) - come up with a new product or service altogether. I usually get really excited and proceed to call up a couple of friends to discuss it with. After some time passes though, I tend to feel completely disheartened and end up back on square one. Why? Let me start with a few examples:
- In the summer of last year, I was reading Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston and found myself highlighting certain sentences and making notes on some of the pages. Suddenly, it hit me – why not combine a bookmark with a highlighter and pen (and/or maybe post-its) that I could use instead of having a separate pen, highlighter, bookmark and/or post-its? I called up my best friend immediately and discussed the idea. Next, I did a Google search and - to my dismay - found a patent on a similar product. (Thanks to print moving online and products like Amazon's Kindle, you can see it's also a product that was probably not going to get far).
- Another idea I was also excited about was an online service that allowed obsessed fans to have personal images altered to include their favorite celebrities. I put together a few for my sister (this is when I used to be handy at Photoshop) and she loved them. I also created an eBay listing to see if anyone would be interested in paying for the service. However, I quickly learned about copyright infringement and a lawyer I hired advised me to go in another direction.
- Just this year I put together a business plan for a clothes swapping marketplace and spent months working on a business plan. I entered it into Temple's Business Plan Competition where I was chosen as a finalist. However, I didn't place and abandoned the idea a couple of months later when I couldn't get past a key issue in my plan.
What's the common thread among these examples? I DIDN'T LAUNCH ANY OF THEM!
What is it? Are the ideas flawed from the start? Are there focus or execution issues?
It’s cheaper than it’s ever been to build an online business. Unlike 10 years ago, you no longer need to spend millions of dollars creating a website for your business from scratch. There are numerous tools and resources you and I are now lucky enough to be able to leverage. For example, you can set up an eBay or Amazon store, utilize Guru or Rentacoder, or you can even purchase already existing code.
The online space has changed and it doesn’t require as much time or money to get started. So why aren’t you or I taking advantage it? In addition, another problem I had was that I kept trying to come up with an original idea. Is there really such a thing anymore? Plus, there is ALWAYS competition. It's time that you and I embraced it and focused on creating compelling differentiators on our product or service instead.
Skip wrote a great post last year titled "To launch or not to launch? Three reasons to launch now." In it, he discussed how easy it is to engage would-be customers and to get up and running quickly. What can you do differently today to finally start your business instead of just talking about it? Here are some steps I laid out for my current venture that may help. These steps can be used as "gates" through which idea must pass successfully - or be terminated with mercy:
1. Bounce your idea around. Create a sounding board of close friends and family members to discuss your ideas with. Listen to their feedback and refine the idea as necessary. Check out “Bouncing Your Idea Ball” for more information.
2. Do some market testing. This is the step that will help you assess your market and competition to see if the market you’re pursing is as attractive as you think it is. A lot of entrepreneurs will want to skip this step so they can just focus on getting up and going but I wouldn’t recommend it – plus it could end up saving you time and money (See “5 Reasons to Market Test your Startup Idea”).
3. Identify your differentiators. What’s going to make you stand apart from your competitors? Determine your position and make it compelling.
4. Look for beta users. Say I decided I wanted to pick up the clothes swapping marketplace concept again. I would look for users who would be interested in using the service and constantly ask them for feedback on the website, features, etc. In other words, I’d get them to help me with my business model instead of trying to figure it out myself.
5. Discover leverage points. Instead of building a “walled garden”, look for other ways you can get out there cheaper and faster. For example, can you create a Facebook application instead of a stand-alone site? Can you use the power of eBay’s reach or Amazon’s?
6. Build your team. If you’re a technology person – make sure you find a business person and vice versa.
7. Post your project on Guru or Rentacoder (For others, see “7 Alternatives to Guru.com”). This is optional – if you can do it yourself by all means, go ahead.
8. Launch a minimal version. Get a basic version out and use feedback from your users to build out your site. After all, they’ll be the ones paying for it and using it.
9. Market your site. Once you’ve worked out the kinks and built out your business model – get out there and start telling others about it (For ideas, check out our previous post, “25 Nearly Free Ways to Market your Business”).
This post was as much for me as it was for you. I hope you enjoyed it. What are you going to do differently today to launch your business?
By: Yasmine Mustafa