“Mr. Owl, How many hurdles do I have to jump to start my business?”

Who do you go to for answers?

About a year ago, I decided to try something new.  Instead of devoting my time and creativity to making someone else get rich, I wanted to start my own business.  I had no shortage of ideas.  I’d spent 15 years marketing technology for startups and large corporations.  I knew the ins and outs of branding, PR, trade shows, product launches, and all that good stuff.  I’d worked closely with CEOs and founders as they grew from a handful of employees to mature companies, so I knew there was a lot of work to do.  But, I had no idea how many questions I was going to have.

I picked an invention of mine — a simple one to start with.  I thought about trends and markets I knew and decided on a promotional item that was well-suited for the Health and Wellness market.  At home, I was challenged with getting my daughter to drink water every day.  So, I had a little motivation to make the invention, a water consumption tracker, more fun.  It seemed like the perfect trade  show giveaway – useful for the consumer, visible during and after the show, light weight for shipping, and relevant to market trends.

Before I took the idea too far, I decided to see if people would want such a thing.  I talked to friends and family.  They thought it was brilliant.  But, they are my friends and family.  So, I created a survey with a free online survey software.  I sent the link to everyone I knew.  I offered anonymity and a $50 gift certificate by email to one random entry.  I posted the link on FaceBook.  I begged for responses.  They trickled in.  I begged more and bugged my friends to forward the link.  After a week, I only had 60 responses.  Most were females in my age range and from emails I could see many were friends and family.  The good news was that 80% said they’d like something to help them track daily water consumption.  62% said they’d pay up to $5 or more for it.  Only 8% said they wouldn’t use it at all.  That was good enough for me.

Hurdle #1 – Validate idea.  Check.

That was just the beginning.  Remember Mr. Owl, the one who knew the answers to everything including how many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?  I started wishing I had him around.  I read books, searched the web obsessively and encountered hurdle after hurdle.  How do I test my design?  Where do I get information about the right materials to use?  How much do the different manufacturing processes costs?  Do I need a patent?  How do I find a manufacturer in China when all the US bids come out too high? What kind of business do I need to set up?  Who can I trust?  Can I get a business loan?  How do I wire money to China? How do license deals work?  How do I set up an e-commerce web site? How long is this going to take?

You get the idea.  Over the next couple of months, I learned a lot and met some incredible people.  Around February, I met Mindee Doney, founder of BoogieWipes.  She didn’t seem too enthusiastic about my idea, but we clicked.  Somehow I ended up reworking her book which will be published this Fall, and we talked a lot about the challenges of starting a business.  As successful entrepreneurs, Mindee and her partner Julie help a lot of moms get started (or get back on track) with their businesses.  They see a lot of ideas and receive sample products and promotional pieces.

One day, we talked about the “bad” ideas and poor executions of good ideas.  I shared with her some other invention ideas I had and one “big idea” I had for a software solution that would help the problem of sorting the good from the bad.  Mindee understood right away and wanted it.

Suddenly water trackers weren’t so important.  THIS was what I needed to do.  Now, the trackers sit waiting in boxes in my garage and the software is in final development.

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