I participated in a business forum last week for veterans who have separated from the service and are looking to start businesses. One question that came up is about the origin of business ideas. Where do business ideas come from? Why do businesses fail? What are the best businesses to start?
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There were a number of folks like me in the room who tried to provide some answers and perspective. I think where we all came out was that the best business ideas are those which solve a problem worth solving. How does one know if it’s worth solving? Well, if it’s a problem that only you have, it probably isn’t. If a lot of people have this problem you then might have a market. If it’s a problem that keeps needing solving, then you have a really good market. If people care less about the cost of solving the problem than they do in just getting it solved, you have an excellent market. And if you’re the only one with a solution that solves the problem in a way where the cost to do so is outweighed by the value you’re providing, you just might have a great business idea.
It was interesting to hear the responses as we went around the room and heard about the businesses these veterans either had started or were contemplating. Many fell nicely into the paradigm, above. In some cases, they needed help expressing their idea succinctly and clearly and in a way that demonstrated they understood the problem they’re solving and the market presented. A couple stood out as being fantastic ideas while a couple of others clearly needed more refinement and thought.
I’d encourage you to try that exercise. What problem are you solving? Is it a problem shared by enough people to make it worth solving? Who else is solving it? Why is your solution better? With those answers, you’re well down the road both to a solid business plan and to finding people who will invest in making that plan a reality. You in?
Ever been a part of a feasibility study? You know – a bunch of people have a bright idea and it’s good enough that there needs to be a serious investigation into whether it can be done or not.
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A team is put together (hopefully including those whose idea it was in the first place) and questions are drawn up. In some ways those questions are like a mini business plan. What’s the potential market for this idea? What are the resources needed to bring it to life? What sort of on-going support will it require? Can it be done in a reasonable time frame or will it take so long that the potential evaporates? And of course, what are the legal ramifications if we do what we’re proposing to do?
I want to focus on that last little bit because I think it’s illustrative of a broader point. Lawyers are trained to protect their clients (which are, by the way, the companies for which they work and not YOU, dummy). To many of them, the status quo is a lovely place (assuming the company is not tied up in litigation). That’s not really the best place, however, for many businesses. In fact, in some businesses such as tech, the status quo is a death sentence. When the feasibility of something new is brought up, I’ve worked with some lawyers who were fabulous at finding ways to say “no.” The could spot a potential problem long before any of us could and they didn’t hesitate to cite those problems are reasons not to proceed.
Here is what they – and you – need to keep in mind:
Obstacles are huge and opportunities are small: one often hides the other.
How many people underestimate what’s feasible since obstacles can be readily apparent but the opportunities hidden behind them get missed? We need to do what the better lawyers (and executives) I’ve known always did: spot the opportunity and find a way to remove the obstacle blocking your path. Some feasibility efforts are the business equivalent of the blue screen of death: the system has reached an issue it can’t handle and throws in the towel.
I’m a believer in almost anything being feasible as long as there is flexibility, some tolerance for risk, and a willingness to adjust as you learn. People – and businesses – have done things a certain way for years and in most cases it’s working for them. Trying something new or doing things in a new way might not seem feasible and it’s not if there is a predisposition towards allowing the obstacles to obscure the opportunity. But I’ll bet you can tell me about a time when you tried to do something in a new way – you shut your eyes and didn’t see the obstacles but visualized the opportunity – and succeeded. So tell me!