What’s the Big Idea?

So you want a business huh? You want to build the next Microsoft, become the next Donald Trump and marry the latest popular arm ornament. Where do you start? I’ve got a great idea- start of the beginning. Where’s the beginning? Hang on tight, becuase I’ve got the answer. The beginning is the idea.

As I talk with potential customers [*1] about running a store, the thing that frustrates me the most is that they want to start their business in the middle somewhere. Lunch conversations have literally gone like this:

Customer: How do I do order fulfillment- do you think UPS or FedEx is better?
Cam: What are you selling?
Customer: Well, my buddy makes these little wooden puppets that kids seem to like. But maybe that’s dumb. Maybe we could sell something else. Maybe wooden hats.
Cam: Well, it’s important to figure out what you want to sell.
Customer: We’ll probably go with the puppets. But it’s hard to get to get these things off the ground, you know? I mean how will we find time to do advertising?
Cam: Well, the first step is to decide what you want to sell.
Customer: Is advertising hard? Do you think we should use Google?
Cam: I’d say the first thing to do is decide what product you want to market.
Customer: Well, one thing I know- we’ve got to sell something good. I hope we can find a cheap place to rent for a store. How much does your store cost?
Cam: I hate you and you’re lucky this fork is plastic.

Times are tough now. You can’t simply announce that a great idea will be forthcoming and have venture capitalists begging you to take their money. From what I understand this was the case a few years back, and now companies built on the idea of an idea are completely gone. Nice work there. So let me drive this home again- you start your business by thinking of an idea.

The idea itself can be anything. Maybe you have the great idea for a world changing invention (way to go!). Maybe your idea involves buying some spiffy niche product wholesale and reselling it (works for me!).  Or maybe you can provide some incredible service that everyone wants (make it free for Cam!). Lie in a hammock, brainstorm on paper, harass your friends- just find the idea.

Now you have to ask yourself an important and potentially uncomfortable question: Can i build a business around my idea?  Let’s say you love pickle and jelly sandwiches. No one makes a better PJ sandwich than you! Maybe you should open a pickle and jelly sandwich shop, right? But in the nick of time you realize that no one else on earth will eat your sandwiches.  Sometimes common sense is all you need for a business evaluation.  Other times it takes a little more work.  You need to churn your idea around. You need to imagine how a business could function around it. The idea has to be viable enough so that it can support an infrastructure of processes (processes are big- we’ll talk about them one day [*2]) to reach a desired goal (usually money!).  And even after you figure out everything in your head, you may not know an idea isn’t viable until you’ve started working with it.  We’ll go more into depth on that later.

So to recap: A business starts with an idea. Find an idea and ask yourself if you can build a business around it.  That’s the first step [*3]. Now is not the time to figure out of your cousin Bubba is going to be a good customer service rep (“I just wish he knew English”) or if you should start planning your retirement. Begin with an idea and evaluate it’s business potential as best you can.  Then you decide if it’s something you really want to do, something that will be within your ability range, something you can afford, and so on. We’ll get to that soon. If you want a business just start thinking of ideas.


[1*] Potential customers for our ecommerce software, Blaze.

[*2] Processes are a fundamental requirement to achieve a successful business. Processes solve problems, create order and make you feel warm and fuzzy. I’ll be writing a section on developing processes in the future.  This will be updated with a link when the post is done.

[*3] Yep, all my business started with an idea. “Can I sell knives on the Internet and make money?”  worked out pretty well. “Can I pour lime juice into water, add caffeine, add the words “natural” and “power” and make a million dollars?” We shall see.