1. Set your expectations high.
First, you need to outline what you hope to get out of running a business. Pursue fulfilling work that aligns with your passion. Defining a few deal breakers will help you weed out the duds. This is about the type of business you want, not necessarily the industry.
For example, I knew I wanted to help people and sell products rather than services. I especially cared about people with substance abuse problems, so selling products that helped people cope with these issues at home and in businesses seemed like the perfect option.
2. Never stop studying.
You can’t discover unmet needs and propose viable solutions without continuously studying the ins and outs of an industry. Investigate potential government regulations, key industry players and national and international trends to further expand your knowledge base. Learn enough to sense possibilities, then conduct more research before acting on that information, whether you move forward or course-correct.
Listening is also a crucial component of research. You will only identify gaps by listening to the market and responding to it. Conduct interviews and surveys to hear directly from key stakeholders.
It took me six to eight months to learn about the industry players, the technologies used and the distribution channels, so be patient. Make learning a part of your life, not a task you check off. Constant improvement is the only way to stay competitive.
3. Find your light bulb.
Unearthing your brilliant idea is more about observation than innovation. Along with industry research, seek out inspiration in a bigger landscape. Attend investment events, and visit venture capitalist and angel investor websites, such as Tech Coast Angels. Read publications such as the PricewaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree Report to learn which companies are getting funded. Look to other entrepreneurs, and discover how they’re building successful companies by perceiving things differently.
When sorting through your ideas, make sure to hone a unique selling point. You don’t necessarily need to dream up a brand-new invention; you can also enhance an existing idea. You might be faster, cheaper or have a sharper focus on customer service. Just make sure you can differentiate yourself.
4. Build your spokes.
The advisors, employees and organizations you work with will play a defining role in your success (or failure). Hire passionate, experienced team members who will ride out the challenges and instability of the early startup days. Work with the best manufacturers or partners to ensure a great product and customer experience. And keep in touch with your old network even as you develop a new one. My former professors have been invaluable advisors and introduced me to customers, vendors and even interns.
Clarifying your business’s purpose will lead you to the right people to build with. We decided early on that we wanted to sell devices, not do medical research. Instead of wasting time hiring experts, we worked with the best labs and manufacturers.
5. Be bold.
In every step, you have to be bold enough to overcome internal fears and external discouragement. Don’t be afraid to learn something new or ignore the naysayers. Of course, you can’t do it alone. With a great team by your side, you can compensate for your shortcomings and thrive in any market.
No magic formula will point you to a winning business idea, but repeating these steps helped me build a business I love. Dive deep into an industry, and keep your eyes open. Find where your passion intersects with a deep-seated void, and you’ll be the perfect person to fill it.