Converting an idea into a business
I often get asked this question: “I have an idea. But I just don’t know what to do next. How do I start implementing it?”
It is not unusual to get stuck with the idea without knowing how to take it forward. Often the fear of having to manage operations and finances and people is what stops people from getting started on their idea.
Having an idea is a good starting point. The first thing to do is to let that idea rest for a few day. Think about it every day. But don’t act on it. Think through all the positives AND all the negatives. Think of how great it can be. And also think about what could go wrong and how worse it can get. You will start seeing different aspects about the idea. Not all will be good. And that’s OK.
And even after a few days of thinking about various aspects of the idea, if it still excites you as much as it did on the first day, then you take the next step of thinking about how to convert that idea into a product/service, how do you get users/customers, who is your user, who is your customer i.e. who pays, how much do they pay, how much money will you make out of what they pay i.e. what is your margin, what are the costs… and as a result of all this thinking through, you will get a sense of whether this makes sense for you commercially.
Once you have done that, start thinking in details about all the cost structures, the time gap between when your expenses start and when your revenues start coming in, and the gap between your costs and your WORST CASE estimates on revenues. That will give you an indication of the kind of monies you may require to get your concept into the market.
Then think of what the relevant funding sources for this concept are at this stage (and VCs are NOT the only option… often it could be alternates like getting advances from customers or funding from family & friends, or a small loan from a bank, or plain bootstrapping).
Family & friends funding explained: If you, say, need Rs.15 lacs of funding for your business. Would it be possible to raise that through a co-investment of Rs.1 lac each from 15 individuals of Rs.50,000 each from 30? That’s a family & friends round.
Start talking to potential customers and other stakeholders – distributors, intermediaries, influencers, other founders (to get their perspective on your plans), media folks, vendors, etc. Conversations with different folks give you diverse perspectives on the BUSINESS dynamics around your concept.
Parallely, start thinking very, very hard about how you are going to implement it… for the first few quarters you should have a week-by-week plan on what the milestones and goals should be, and how you will go about meeting those. i.e. it is not very useful to say “we will have 500 users by end of month 1″… it is important to nail it down to “To get 500 customers registered by end of month 1, we will have to reach 10,000 potential users. We aim to do this by online marketing in Gurgaon area, and through posters in housing complexes.” (In fact, in your operating plan, it will be important to nail down the specific housing complexes that you will be approaching to get your posters on their notice boards). When you start planning to this granularity, you will notice that a lot of things become more apparent e.g. how many visits will you have to make to a housing colony before the poster gets on their wall, who will put it up, how much will it cost, how will you monitors, etc.
As you immerse yourself into the operational aspects, you will start understanding the complexity and the multi-dimensional aspect of business that founders need to think deeply about. And this is the fun and the challenging part, which gives entrepreneurs the adrenaline rush – in understanding the challenges, the clarity that one keeps on getting as you immerse yourself more into the domain, the tweaks that you make in your plan as you learn… and the decisions that you have to make based on whatever data you have.
As you start seeing the various dots that need to be connected, you start realizing that this is much bigger than what you had originally thought it to be… and that is fun. (Well, often scary too… but in a nice, ‘keeps you awake at night but gets you raring to start your day’ type of scary way.).
Just do it.