What is your dream? All award-winning entrepreneurs have had a dream and followed it. They have turned their ideas into a commercial success. Do you have a dream to pursue? Do you have a great idea that can be turned into a business? Do you have an unquenchable fire in your belly to turn a great idea into a product everyone wants?
Good to time to start. If so, I believe you qualify to begin the first step in a long journey taken by tens of thousands of brave souls who have taken a leap of faith to start their own businesses. You should know there has never been a better time to follow your dream and turn it into a reality. Having a dream is the key. It’s the starting point. It’s a seed that if planted, watered, nurtured and cultivated has a wonderful chance to grow. Do you have that new product in mind? Are you ready to go? Then I say, full speed ahead. Go for it now! Don’t wait.
Sadly, I have seen scores of individuals who have had a terrific idea, a great concept, but for one reason or another, were unable to follow their dream to start and grow a new enterprise.
What was the problem? Did they lack motivation? Were they fearful? Did they not have the support of a spouse? Were they too comfortable? Whatever the case, they never left the couch and the dream died, never to be followed.
Over the years, great companies have been built by innovators who saw an opportunity and had an inspired thought on how they might meet customer needs.
Ideas. What is the origin of inspiration? Most entrepreneurs tell me ideas come as if they were mining for gold. They sift through thousands of dull stones until they find a bright and shining one. The key is to start the process with a broad funnel of possibilities from which pure gold will be collected from the narrow filtered end.
There are lots of mountains to mine. Which ones should you select? I recommend investigating the following: 1) distributive technologies, 2) new resource discoveries, 3) demographic changes, 4) life style and taste changes, 5) economic changes, 6) calamities and 7) government rule changes. Each of these categories contains new and unique niches with profitable potential. In addition, innovators might consider product improvements, better pricing, enhanced service and other channels of distribution. Lastly, new product and service ideas might come as you listen to buyer complaints and wishes. Potential customers in your industry are the most common source of new product ideas. Your next step is to do your homework and from this research determine the best possible opportunities.
Value. On a side note, please know that as an investor, I am often told by enthusiastic entrepreneurs that their idea is worth millions of dollars. They are surprised when I respond, no, at this moment, it’s worth absolutely nothing. Your idea becomes valuable only when you have customers who will pay for it.
Customers. After your research with a target audience and the initial development of your idea, it’s time to visit once again with potential customers. You might ask, “Will this idea/product be a solution to your need? Would you buy it? What would you pay for it? Where would you buy it?” Ask, “What improvements should be made?” With this vital information in hand, I suggest you return to your lab, garage or office to act upon what you have learned. Once you are ready with the next iteration, contact potential customers again, for one more response to the changes you have addressed. Repeat this process until the customer is ready to buy. By the way, all too often companies build the product first and then visit with potential customers after the fact. This is a very serious mistake I have seen both large and small companies make.
A dream come true. The idea I had to start MarketStar, the company I founded and led for nearly two decades, came to me one day while I worked as president of a startup company known as Net Line Inc. Our young firm needed people to introduce and promote our technology products to computer dealers nationwide. We tried several options for contacting and engaging the owners of these companies. We called them on the phone. We contracted with manufacturer reps. We met with them at trade shows. We advertised in trade publications. Sadly, none of these things worked. Then one day after weeks of frustration, we decided to hire and train electrical engineering students from nearby universities to visit computer dealers during their summer vacation. With this effort, we began to see some traction, but stopped the activity when the company ran out of money.
Happily for me, a moment of inspiration occurred — an “ah ha” moment. I saw a need in the marketplace and a business opportunity to start another business, my fifth. I thought to myself, if Net Line needed sales assistance, why wouldn’t other startups need the same help? With Net Line closing its doors and needing employment to pay my bills, at age 43, with six children at home and a very supportive wife, I began contacting small technology companies to learn if they would pay for temporary sales reps to promote their products. To my delight, the answer was yes, and we were off to the races. Now, nearly 24 years later, MarketStar is a global business with several thousand employees generating more than $8 billion in sales per year for our clients.
Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is the chairman of the Utah Technology Council.