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.