The other night I was having dinner with my sister in Chicago, and she has a fantastic business idea we were brainstorming. She has this great concept and is trying to figure out what steps are needed to turn it into something. Her attitude and approach is right on the money – she isn’t just letting the idea ruminate in her head. She’s actually done some research into it, talked to people about it and is now working to figure out what’s next. It was awesome to see.
The whole conversation made me realize how passionate I am about this topic – that ideas don’t mean shit. You gotta do something about them. Ideas are aplenty, but what’s not so common is people willing to take the steps to execute on an idea. Then among those who do, they still have to turn it into a business and run that business effectively.
People often ask me what I think about the fact that we have competitors in our industry. I love it! It validates the concept and provides some objective evidence that we aren’t insane. Other players in the market means we’re all creating exposure and attention around the idea. But they still have to execute effectively to make it a successful business.
I remember being intimidated and overwhelmed at what I would need to do to go from idea to putting a product in market. I’m pretty sure others feel the same way, so below is a summary of the steps I took to get our company started. This is not based on research so don’t take these ratios and numbers to the bank. They are purely based on my own experience and observations over the years. Plus, I’m by no means an expert on this topic and there are a lot of more experienced people out there than I, and while we’re off to a great start we’re still learning and have a lot more we want to accomplish. Regardless, I’m hoping these steps will help others move their idea along, as well.
Step 1: The Idea
Description: This is just an idea ruminating in your head. Everybody has an idea and may have multiple ideas. A few beers can help trigger this.
Filtering: No filtering here – I would estimate there are about 4x the ideas as there are people on the planet. Let’s start with 1 million ideas just to keep our math simple.
What I Did: I thought about the concept of a simple wizard-driven process to help sales managers create competitions within their CRM system to motivate salespeople. I sat on this idea for a good 6 months before doing anything. Hey, we’re all guilty of it.
Step 2: Lazy Research
Description: Sitting on your couch Googling your concept to see if anyone has done it. Maybe you find something similar, maybe not.
Filtering: I would estimate 20% of people will get to this step. Very few even take one move toward realizing their inspiration.
What I Did: I looked around in the Salesforce AppExchange and did some Google searches to see if there was anything out there – there was not.
Step 3: Get Off Your Butt Research
Description: Go beyond basic online searches, and actually go talk to people about it – potential customers, people who know the industry, etc. And you want to really get out there – don’t just talk to friends.
Filtering: This is a massive filter – most people will not take this step. Again only 20% will move to this stage.
What I Did: I asked people at the Dreamforce conference if they had heard of anything like this and what they thought. Also asked a few Salesforce employees and sales managers that use Salesforce.
Step 4: Find a Pen and Piece of Paper
Description: You have some vision in your head; now it’s time to extract it. It’s tempting to open up your computer to do this, but pen and paper feels best. Get yourself into a comfortable environment and start drawing. This part is hard, because you’ll start realizing things you didn’t think about. Don’t worry – keep going.
Filtering: I would estimate 40% of people will then move to this step. If someone took the prior step, there is a pretty good chance they’ll get here. Still, many will get falsely discouraged (aka, scared) about what they learned in the prior step.
What I Did: I wrote down the steps a sales manager would take to go through the process of building out a competition and then a rough sketch of what the leaderboard would look like to the salesperson.
Step 5: Make It Look Decent
Description: Take your chicken scratch on paper and put a little more form around it. You would likely do this in PowerPoint, or using a tool like Balsamiq. The purpose is to put it into a form that you can show other people.
Filtering: 70% will get here. This is actually harder than you think, as you’ll realize that your idea may have some holes in it. You’re beginning to get into the details. This will frustrate some.
What I Did: I first did this in PowerPoint, which was fine. It wasn’t pretty, but it made the point. I felt a lot better after doing this, because the process forced me to think through the details.
Step 6: Show Other People
Description: Take your mock-ups and show them to some potential end users. Ask them what they think: What do they like? What is missing? What other ideas do they have? How much would they pay for something like this?
Filtering: Again 70% will move to this stage. At this point, you have some real momentum, so less people will start falling out of this funnel. Those who do are mostly just losing interest as they get into the details and get mixed feedback they are uncomfortable addressing.
What I Did: Now I went back to a lot of the people I spoke to before – people at Salesforce, Salesforce administrators at companies and sales managers (potential customers). I got some truly amazing ideas during this phase that turned out to be key features of the product.
Step 7: Market Research
Description: Now that you have some level of validation to your idea, it’s time to assess the general size of the market, how you might take your initial product to customers, how much you may charge for it, etc.
Filtering: Again 70% will advance here. Some will skip this step, which will make things harder when they get to the future step of raising money.
What I Did: I mostly searched around the web and talked to some people at Salesforce to learn how many customers they had. I also talked to employees at other companies that had apps for Salesforce and learned things like how much they charged for their product and how much their company was growing.
Step 8: Cost to Build
Description: If you’re a non-technical person, this is where you start to find a co-founder or an outsider to determine how long and how much it would cost to build an initial version of the product. It may not be pretty, but you need some working model that you could start selling.
Filtering: 80% will get here. You’ll just need to start asking around to find someone decent. Some will get nervous about opening up their idea to others, but don’t. Do you think they would go through all these steps?
What I Did: I was fortunate to be able to use our resources at ePrize. We had 3-months to figure it out, because I wanted to make sure we were done and launched by Dreamforce 2011. This was a critical and immoveable date.
Step 9: Raise Money
Description: You’ve got your product idea sketched out, you have solid market feedback, you have a sense as to the size of the market and you know what it will take to build an initial version. Now you have to determine if you are going to pay for it or you will ask others to help – investors.
Filtering: 50% filter here. Many will get very intimidated by this step, and the idea above will sit on a shelf. Don’t get intimidated – just start asking around. There are likely people in your own network who may be able to help out. Just start asking around and you’ll be surprised.
What I Did: My initial funding came from ePrize who looked at this as an internal project. When the product was ready, Detroit Venture Partners and others put in venture capital to get more aggressive.
Step 10: Build It and Launch It!
Description: Once you secure funding (or decide to do it on your own or with a partner), it’s time to build your offering and take it to customers.
Filtering: 30% will get through and complete this step. Many will get stuck in this mode for a long time – spending way too much time trying to make the product perfect versus just creating a basic version to start.
What I Did: We spent about 3 months building the beta version. I’m so glad we had the deadline of Dreamforce, as it forced us to just get something out. We did, and going live with even a rough product got it in front of potential customers sooner so we could take their feedback and continue evolving.
I could easily keep going with this, as there are many more steps in then going from launch to revenue and scale. Our business is still in the very early stages so we’re still learning as we go as well. My hope is simply that this overview not only gives you a bit of a roadmap of the steps to take, but also helps make the process less intimidating.
Remember those 1 million ideas I mentioned at first? There are now 659 that got through the steps above. So my point is this: Don’t get intimidated. And maybe now you can understand the point “ideas are a dime a dozen.” Because it’s not the idea that matters – it’s taking action.