From Idea to Business

From Idea to Business

IdeaToBusinessYou have an idea!


So do a hundred, a thousand other people. Your exact same idea. Or several variations of it.

So what are you going to do about it?

If you haven’t run a business before, or you are just starting out, chances are you are hugging your idea to your chest and you are afraid to share it with others for fear that they might steal your idea. This is natural. It is normal behaviour to protect one’s possessions and prevent them from falling into wrong hands.

However, ideas are a dime a dozen. In other words, ideas are 12 for 10 kobo. On their own, ideas are not worth much. If you couple this with the fact that there are possibly a thousand other people with the exact same idea you just had, then you start to see why ideas on their own, are not enough.

There are a few questions you are probably asking yourself:

  1. How do I take my idea forward?
  2. Should I share my idea with others?
  3. Who should I share my ideas with?
  4. Can I make money with my idea?
  5. Can I sell my idea?
  6. Should I prepare an MOU before sharing my idea with others?
  7. How can I execute my idea in the best way?

These, and many more are probably the questions plaguing your mind. In this article i would attempt to provide you with an execution framework that would help you move from idea to business.

What’s the quality of your idea?

All ideas are not equal.
All markets are not equal.
All execution strategies are not equal.
All executors are not equal.
The magnitude of the uncertainties involved in taking an idea to market, to turning it into a business, in pushing forward despite all odds, the magnitude of these uncertainties only guaranty one thing! That there is success to be had if you drive right.

A high quality idea with a inefficient implementation leads to losses. A low quality idea with a great implementation can lead to great success. A high quality idea with a great implementation will lead to even greater success. This is what everyone wants.

What is the quality of your idea? This is a subjective question, and most people will always believe that their idea is really high quality. Interestingly, the quality of your raw idea is usually only dependent on your current understanding of things and your general level of exposure to business and the art of providing solutions.

If you are going to succeed in turning an idea to a business, you must be willing to be flexible about your idea, because ideas don’t come out fully formed. Your interaction with your idea, mulling it over in your head, sharing it with the right people, will continually refine it towards a useful solution.

Your idea is great. What next?

Let’s assume that you are surrounded by people who want your progress, or you have been able to find a way to seek such people out and they have helped refine your ideas, what should be your next step? The most logical step should be to start putting down the building blocks that will turn this idea into a viable business.

At this point, it is important for us to distinguish between the different types of businesses that your idea can become. Each type will also inform how you should proceed. The three broad types of businesses are:

  1. Brick and Mortar business
  2. Tech enabled business
  3. Tech business

Now lets take each of these broad business types and understand them.

Brick and Mortar Businesses

Simply put, these are businesses that operate mainly via their physical locations, hence the name. They can be big, and they can be small. They may or may not include the use of technology in their business, the defining factor here is their necessary need for physical structures. Examples include Banks, dry-cleaning businesses, schools, business centers, hospitals etc. As you can probably tell, putting together a physical structure will be capital intensive. Today, some of these types of businesses are going digital and trying to eliminate the use of physical locations.

Tech Enabled Businesses

Tech Enabled businesses use technology to enable their businesses. They already have a business, they simply use technology to make it work faster, cheaper and more efficient. Tech enabled businesses are sometimes brick and mortar businesses, and sometimes not. The clear defining factor here is that the business has employed the use of technology in delivering its services. A business can start off as non tech enabled, and evolve to become tech enabled. Uber and Airbnb started manually, and evolved to become tech-enabled and today even core tech. Other examples here include eCommerce platforms, online marketplaces, etc. Tech enabled businesses can also evolve to be come core tech businesses.

Tech Businesses

This are businesses where the business is the technology. There is no way for the customer to use the service unless by interacting with or using the technology product. Think Email, Paystack, WhatsApp, Akowe, ChatGPT, Google Search. Often times, the only way to build this, is to build the tech.

Next, Find Customers, Fast

Now that you know the broad type of businesses that exist, no matter the category your idea falls under, if you are to succeed, one thing is true across all categories, and that is finding customers early. This means that the solution you are providing, even in its most rudimentary form, must be usable by the customer, or they must see it as a service they can pay for, even if some parts of it is still executed manually.

A very common pitfall of founders building tech or tech enabled businesses is wanting to make the product perfect before launching. They will spend a lot of time and energy building and focusing on the product, whereas, a better portion of that time should actually be spent talking to potential customers, or even getting the customers to pay for the service in its rudimentary form.

I know this because I have once been a victim of this style of execution. At the core of it is fear of what the product acceptance will look like, because no one likes to fail publicly. So, we embark on endless and sometimes meaningless tweaking of the product for a customer we are not really talking to.

For Tech Enabled Ideas

There is a possibility that you do not need to build anything at the beginning. Often times, there are existing tools that you can use to kick off and prove the concept. For example, you would like to connect farmers and their farm produce to customers. Rather than start of by building a lot of fancy tech, start off by identifying the customers and connecting them to the farmers. You can certainly do this without fancy tech. Your MVP here could be a single Excel Workbook or Google Sheet where one sheet contains a list of potential customers and what they want to buy and another sheet contains the farmers and what they have to sell. Maybe even a third sheet with a list of logistics partners, their capacity and their locations. With this very minimal setup, you will be revenue positive quicker, proving that the business model is sustainable.

For Tech Businesses

Core Tech businesses often have to build the technology before they can offer it to the customer. The technology is a core part of the solution or the business. Still, you must talk to customers first in order to validate the idea earlier than later. The common pitfall here is that founders build a solution looking for a problem. This happens quite a lot and it is usually because they end up focusing on the product rather than talking to the customers and understanding how the problem exists, its nature and the nature of a possible solution. Often times, successful founders who build core tech products are surrounded by the problem, have experienced the problem repeatedly or they work in an industry that gives them very in-depth insight into the nature of the problem, and by talking to more potential customers, they are often able to fashion a rudimentary solution that they can offer to potential customers to try.

Pitfalls to avoid

  1. Customers are the lifeline of any business. The quicker your journey to sales the better. Talk to potential customers right at the beginning.
  2. When sharing survey questions, ask open ended questions that allow potential customers describe their challenge to you. From their stories, extract the real challenges. Closed ended questions are not ideal because they will confirm your bias. I sat on a podcast to discuss this in detail here.
  3. If you are building a core tech product, avoid fitting in all the bells and whistles. Determine the core functionality and put the product in front of customers once that core functionality is ready.
  4. Don’t build what you like, built what people want.
  5. Don’t register the business legally until you have validated that customers want your solution and are actually paying for it.
  6. You cannot build most businesses alone, seek the right partners and collaborators early.

It is my hope that the ideas laid out in this article would shorten someone’s journey out there, and most of all, help you avoid unnecessary deep ditches in your journey. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I will  respond.

Ire ooo!

Featured Image Courtesy African Stock Photos.

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