How to Turn an Idea into a Reality
Do you have a business idea that you truly, whole-heartedly believe is the next irrefutably amazing, million-dollar idea? Well if you do, you are wrong. Sorry folks, but the fact of the matter is that ideas will not get you into the two comma club, because ideas are worth nothing. However, it is what you actually do with those ideas that turns them into money making machines.
So what’s the trick? How do you turn a million dollar idea into a million dollar reality? Well, that seems to be the million dollar question. To try to answer that question, Boise Urban Magazine talked to John McIntosh, an Associate Professor in Boise State University’s College of Business and Economics.
McIntosh specializes in entrepreneurship and has experience working with startups on Silicon Highway in Boston, MA. He is also currently working with a company that is commercializing for patents coming out of Japan related to pain relief and pain management. With his expert advice, even those without a genius business idea could soon create one and turn it into a successful business.
Where to Start: Ideation
Before you start a business, it is essential to have a well thought out idea if you plan to succeed. That is where the ideation process comes into play, which is the creative process of generating, developing and communicating new ideas. But why is this process so important?
“Basically, we live in a mature consumer based economy and companies that need to carve out space in that environment are required to come up with an idea, a value proposition so to speak, that is sufficiently different from that of the large established companies,” McIntosh said. “Otherwise, they’re not going to gain traction. They’re not going to establish a market presence.”
McIntosh went on to explain that while the whole purpose of ideation is to come up with a value proposition that is different from what is currently being offered in the marketplace, it does not necessarily mean you have to come up with a revolutionary new idea. For example, your idea could simply create a new niche in an already existing market, fragmenting it in a way that allows you to capture some market share.
“You don’t have to be a first mover and you don’t have to come up with the next version of the iPhone,” he said.
However, what you do need to do is identify a pain point experienced by consumers or an unmet need that the current solutions aren’t satisfying. If you don’t do that, people won’t have a good enough reason to consider your idea and buy into it.
An example of a company McIntosh believed to have successfully fragmented the cellphone market is Jitterbug, which created a relatively simple, no frills cellphone for the elderly. Since the elderly can lack fine motor control and visual skills, the phones feature large numbers and buttons that make punching numbers on the keypad easier for them. They also feature amplified speakers and personalized reminders that notify them when they need to take their prescriptions.
“The phones were nothing revolutionary, nothing gigantic, but they took the technology and they actually dumbed it down if you think about what they offer relative to a smartphone,” McIntosh said. “They dumbed it down and it fit the needs of the elderly very, very well.”
When you are in the ideation process, it is critical to think like the consumer. Step into their shoes and try to get a feel for what their true needs really are. This is something McIntosh praised Steve Jobs for.
“Steve Jobs didn’t sit in his garage and dream up ideas, he went out there and observed people,” McIntosh said. “He got a deep understanding of what their needs are and then he came up with products. If you look at follow on products like the iPod and later the iPad, they weren’t things that he dreamed up. They came out of his very, very deep understanding of customers and their needs.”
How do you Know When Your Idea is Good?
The only real way to determine whether your idea is good or bad is finding out what the market has to say about it. This involves “getting out of the building,” in the wise words of Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur, Steve Blank, and actually talking to potential consumers to generate feedback on your idea.
McIntosh suggests building a low resolution, cheap prototype, then going out and talking to a wide variety of people from all walks of life. However, this doesn’t include family and friends. According to McIntosh, people you know don’t want to hurt your feelings.
Instead, he recommends getting feedback from strangers who will be more honest about your idea and offer valid market feedback.
Once your idea has generated some interest and proven that people are willing to pay for it, McIntosh says there are three key things that to consider before going through with an idea and unleashing your product or service to the world.
The first key thing to ask yourself is whether or not you have the technical capabilities to actually turn your idea into a viable product at the sales volumes that would allow for it to become profitable. If you don’t, can you at least identify partners to do that for you?
The second thing you must figure out is your distribution channels. Do you have access to appropriate distribution channels to get your product to the public? If not, consider thinking about resellers.
“As a small company, that is not as simple as saying ‘Here, I’ll deliver my product to you and you guys will sell.’ Because remember, as a small company with a relatively unknown product, you are competing with the resellers for the time and attention of sales people who are already selling established products,” said McIntosh.
Instead, when you have a new product, you need to motivate them to sell it.
“That is a skill that a lot of people completely overlook,” McIntosh said.
The third key consideration should be financing. Do you have the ability to finance the potential business?
Even if you don’t, “That should not be a gigantic concern, or as big of a concern as it is in most people’s minds because we have an incredibly great set of tools out there called crowd funding,” McIntosh said.
If you have a good script, a good videographer and a good person to edit your video, McIntosh believes you can pull in a fair amount of money from a crowdfunding campaign through sites like IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, and MedStartr.
“A lot of people unfortunately have this mistaken impression that if they’re going to fund a business, they’re going to have to stick their hands into their own pockets or go take out a bank loan and that’s not true,” McIntosh said.
Resources for Bringing Your Idea to Life
Some people have a great idea they would love to take to the public, but are bound by barriers they create themselves. One such barrier is the thought that they don’t have access to the proper resources to get a business up and running. However, the Treasure Valley is ripe with entrepreneurial resources just waiting to be utilized.
Every month, there are numerous networking events and speaker series run by various local organizations aimed at facilitating intermingling between entrepreneurs. Many people within the Treasure Valley startup community are more than willing to share their experiences and knowledge.
“Interestingly enough, this is one of the beautiful things about living in Idaho, specifically in Boise,” McIntosh said. “Access in this town is incredible. I’m just always astonished by how open people are to giving their time. Compare that to Boston or New York City, which is where I’ve done things in the past, people are in to protecting their network, not expanding it.”
According to McIntosh, the Treasure Valley has a great entrepreneurial ecosystem filled with established entrepreneurs who are generally willing to give advice to those who are seeking it. McIntosh suggests doing research on people who are at the forefront of the entrepreneurial scene and reaching out to them.
“Understand what this individual is interested in and send off a pleasantly worded email saying, ‘Hey I’ve got this really great idea, I’ve been your admirer for the longest while, would you be kind enough to give me 20 minutes of your time?’”
He explained you really have nothing to lose in doing so, other than maybe five minutes of your time.
With the only potential loss being five minutes out of your day, don’t be afraid of getting rejected.
“Entrepreneurship is really all about taking that idea, being doggedly persistent about it, pushing it, and taking lots and lots of no’s before you get a yes,” McIntosh said.
Aside from directly contacting reputable entrepreneurs in the area, consider getting involved with one of the Treasure Valley’s many incubators or accelerators. These programs are specifically put in place to help aspiring entrepreneurs bring their ideas to fruition.
Before deciding which option is the best for you, it is important to know the difference between the two. According to the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), incubators aim to move entrepreneurs toward self-sustaining, mature businesses. They are typically focused on economic development, providing startups that are lacking capital and the necessary resources to get the ball rolling with expert advice, equipment, temporary premises, or other resources.
McIntosh is a big advocate for accelerators because of how focused they are.
“Find an accelerator that has some real political backing behind it, where there’s a sense of urgency regarding the success of companies in the accelerator and they will help you,” he suggested.
Both types of programs can help you develop your idea into the next million-dollar reality. Essentially it just comes down to what type of atmosphere you prefer, what your objectives are, and whether or not you are willing to give up a piece of the pie.
Graphic element: Incubators vs. Accelerators — Incubators aim to move entrepreneurs toward self-sustaining, mature businesses. They are typically focused on economic development, providing startups that are lacking capital and the necessary resources to get the ball rolling with expert advice, equipment, temporary premises, or other resources.