“Necessity is the mother of invention”. A proverb so old that its origin is uncertain. Every day we think of great, new ways to improve our lives and the lives of others. That small question with possibilities ad infinitum — “What if?”. The human condition, and the insatiable need to want more, drives the entrepreneurial spirit and mind to create. “What if we could run an algorithm to search through documents to create the most sophisticated search engine?”: the birth of Google. “What if we could take pictures, talk, and visually see the other person and connect to our PC software all on our telephone?”: birth of the iPhone. So many life-changing ideas have emerged from the right “What ifs” being converted by the right doers. Moving from an a neurochemical movement in our brains to money in our pockets is what separates the dreamers from the successful entrepreneurs. It does not matter how many great ideas someone creates in their mind, the true measure of successful entrepreneurship is how many ideas are commercialized.
The first step in achieving a conversion is having the right mindset. There has been a lot of academic discussion around the ability to learn entrepreneurship. Let us for one moment assume it can be taught, and we don’t have to be born with it. When the characteristics of an entrepreneur were googled, the following were listed: disciplined, goal oriented, confident, determined, creative, self-starting, and of course passionate. Passion is considered to be the most important factor in successful execution. However, none of these characteristics are unique to entrepreneurship. There are many professionals that share these qualities, but work for other people. There are passionate lawyers, teachers, and doctors. Passion is that energetic force that pushes an individual to accomplish. So these qualities alone do not differentiate the entrepreneur.
How does entrepreneurial thinking convert a lucid idea into a profit-making venture? What is different? Risk! Entrepreneurs are not afraid of failure and they are not afraid to give up a stable profession or an Ivy League university to pursue their idea.
Are all ideas unique to the creator? Not always. An example of a simple idea that grew into a billion dollar company is Spanx. In the early 90’s, I can recall cutting my pantyhose thigh high and using this as “seamless” underwear. It looked smooth, no lines, gave a neat look to tight dresses and kept the tummy tucked in. I distinctively remember thinking, “Why don’t pantyhose manufacturers make this?”. They are probably asking themselves this as well, given the billion dollar enterprise created by Spanx. This was long before the internet and Google, so I had no idea how to create this for anyone else but myself. Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, did the same thing, but unlike me, she recognized the following that I did not:
· Every other woman would have the same issue;
· She was not afraid or embarrassed to market this need;
· She created a prototype and found a manufacturer to produce it;
· She found someone to sell it.
With just US$5,000, she was able to manufacture enough to get the product out of her underwear drawer and into thousands of women’s. She took the risk and it paid off tremendously. Entrepreneurs take calculated risk. Measuring the value of the idea and the cost to make it successful — some fail, some succeed. Sara Blakely sold fax machines prior to her Spanx very unsuccessfully, by the way. Successful entrepreneurs will tell you they have failed many times before, during, and after their success. The true entrepreneur sacrifices to succeed, taking the road that is bumpier, more uncertain, but with hope, drive, and persistence to make their idea into a reality.
To convert the idea into reality, the first step is to take the fear of failure out of your head. The next step is to extract the idea from your thoughts and get it on paper:
· What is the need or problem that this idea will solve?
· Who needs the product or service?
· Does it already exist? If it does, how am I improving what currently exists?
· Who is going to manufacture it?
· What is the distribution channel?
· What support do I need technically?
· How am I going to finance it?
Answering the above questions with a clinical and critical approach, coupled with a lucky break, usually makes all the difference between failure and success. Getting that lucky break is difficult and it could be in the form of the right financier or getting the right sponsor for your product. Getting financing is largely dependent on the degree of structure and the robustness of the answers for the first six questions above.
Documenting these answers and executing with confidence and passion is the start. During “Planting Seeds”, the successful ideas have been those that have sufficiently answered the six questions above and have studied the key factors with great detail:
These considerations are basic, but necessary. There is no need for a 100 page business plan. Careful thought to the above factors and a thorough understanding of the profitability of the future product or service, supported by sound, realistic assumptions, is the path to at least testing your hypothesis for a good idea.
If you wait to get it perfect and not dive into the execution, some other fearless person will beat you to it. Who knows, all now I may have been on a Forbes listing… “What if?”.
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