Your Idea Isn’t a Business

As a technical guy with a few startups under my belt, I’m constantly bombarded with people pitching me their ideas.  It’s not just my friends and family – complete strangers will pitch me ideas when they hear what I do; executives of large companies will pitch me when I’m in their office for a contract.

I take it in stride.  I’ve created a process for dealing with these kinds of pitches: I simply ask the following 3 questions:

  • who’s going to pay you for this idea?
  • why would they go to you instead of a competitor?
  • how many do you have signed up already?

Usually people can answer the first two questions, but close to 100% of people will stutter and say, “Uh…none YET!” and then start talking without pause about why their idea is awesome.  I politely hold up my hands and say:

“If you can’t convince even a few of your customers that your idea is good, how do you expect to convince anyone else?”

Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They Will Come

The real problem with these ideas is that the people who have them believe if that they can just get the darn idea built, of course people will use it!

Take it from someone who has built dozens of ideas: just because you build it, doesn’t mean people will use it.  Even if your idea legitimately saves your customer time and money, they still might not use it.

Why?  People have inertia – they won’t change what they are doing unless they are CONVINCED that doing something else will benefit them.  Part of your job as a business is to convince people that your product is beneficial.  If you haven’t thought about how you’ll do that, then you have an idea, not a business.

Marketing First, Building Second

The 3 questions I ask above are design to reveal a little bit about the pitcher’s marketing strategy.  If they don’t know their value to their customer, then they are extremely far away from becoming a business.

Side note: the worst are the people who say, “No one else is doing this!!” This single phrase tells me that they either haven’t done sufficient market research, or that their idea is not valuable to their customer at all.  Having competition is a good thing – it means that a market exists.

As a founder, you should always, ALWAYS spend your time marketing before you ever try to build something.  If you try to build something before you have a potential user, you run the risk of building something that no one wants to use.

Take some time to talk to your customers: figure out how to reach them (channels), figure out what you can offer them (value), and figure out what relationship you’ll have with them.

Until you can answer these questions, you’ll never actually know what you have to build.  Also, when you do eventually build something, you’ll know exactly how to get users.

Ugh…marketing sounds hard and not fun

If you don’t care about your customers, maybe you shouldn’t be opening a business.

…but if you’re simply overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, there ARE frameworks you can follow to make it easier to get through the initial marketing phase.

Check out my post on the business model canvas to see one such framework.  Basically you take 30 minutes to write down all your assumptions, and then try to validate each assumption 1-by-1.  If you’ve taken the time to fill out at least one business model canvas, you’re ahead of 90% of people who want to start their own business.

What are you waiting for?  Go fill out a BMCturn your idea into a BUSINESS!