As a new business advisor and occasional investor, I get approached regularly by people who have a dream or a new business idea and are looking for support and money to make it a reality. They are usually short on specifics required for execution, so I have to tell them that the idea is the easy part – and the real challenge is execution, even if someone gives you the money.
Based on my experience and data from the field, over seventy-five percent of new startups fail, even with venture backing. The number is much higher for those who choose to go it alone, without help. I say this not to discourage you from acting on your idea, but to encourage you to anticipate the work required to get you from inspiration to a sustainable and satisfying business.
Thus, I’m more impressed with entrepreneurs who ask me to review their implementation plan, rather than listen again to their idea. There are lots of resources available for the challenge of that activity, including the Internet and mentors like me. In my experience, the key steps I look for always include the following:
- Testing the idea against customers who have money to spend. Just because you think it’s a great idea doesn’t mean there is a business opportunity. I suggest you use social media, blogging, crowdfunding, or documented research to quantify a real demand from people who can afford it, and don’t have a better alternative already out there.
I love good causes and social entrepreneurs, but a recent pitch to me about eliminating world hunger with a new product (harvesting algae at low cost) seemed to forget that really hungry people don’t have any money. Even a non-profit needs income to operate.
- Build a credible business implementation plan to quantify costs. Some dreams sound great, but may not yet be viable or proven with today’s technology. Others may be so exciting that you will find multiple competitors fighting for the same space. Writing down key parameters will force you to solidify the specifics, and mentally commit to them.
I recommend a ten-slide pitch to start, reviewed by friends and advisors, to be expanded to a ten-to-twenty-page business plan with opportunity sizing, cost and price details, competitors, marketing and sales strategy, financial projections, and resources required.
- Make sure your solution is defensible and unique. Unfortunately, I see good startups fail simply because they don’t have the resources or intellectual property to stay ahead of copycats or big players who see the potential as soon as you step into the marketplace. Any startup with no patents, trade secrets, or other secret sauce is very high-risk today.
Even a provisional patent will hold your position for a year, can be done by your team at low cost, and will at least incent big competitors to buy your idea rather than just steal it. Most investors will not even look at you until you have a defensible solution to offer.
- Prepare your marketing story for customers and investors. I haven’t seen a new idea yet that was so intuitively obvious that it would sell itself. Start by developing an “elevator pitch,” that you can deliver in thirty seconds to hook a potential customer or investor. Present at trade shows and network with your ten-slide pitch to build your following.
For inspiration, I recommend you watch a few episodes of the Shark Tank TV series, where entrepreneurs pitch their wares, looking for an investment and national visibility for their product or service. Reach out with creative videos to influencers in your domain.
- Make the product or service come alive. Well before launch, as well as after, all the preparations have to be in place to deliver and support your solution. This means staffing and delivering the business legally as an LLC or corporation, completing a website and business licensing, and arranging for manufacturing, distribution, and support.
- Implement a strategy for growth and improvement. For a business to be sustainable in this era of rapid change, you need a strategy and plan for continuous innovation, new products, and expanding your customer base. This is the point where you must manage to metrics, work on the culture of the organization, and look for partner-based growth.
Now you can see why you, as well as advisors and investors, should never judge business potential by the idea alone. In fact, the common element in all these steps is “you.” As a result, smart investors will tell you they invest in the jockey, not the horse (people, not ideas). A great vision and dreaming about a great idea, without implementation, won’t make a business.
I believe totally in the old adage that a successful business is really one percent inspiration, followed by ninety-nine percent perspiration. How much execution perspiration are you prepared to expend along the steps outlined above to make your dream come true?