Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is the Chief Product Officer at Get Spiffy and the founder of teachingstartup.com. Joe has a long entrepreneurial history in the Triangle that includes Automated Insights, ExitEvent, and Intrepid Media. He writes a column about startups, management and innovation each Monday as an exclusive part of WRAL TechWire’s Startup Monday package.
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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In entrepreneurism, the idea is nowhere near as important as the execution. Most entrepreneurs understand this, but just believing in the importance of execution doesn’t mean you can successfully execute.
I’m not talking about executing bad ideas. If your idea is terrible, well, no one is going to be able to help you with that. (But don’t sweat it. I have a dozen bad ideas a day.)
No, your idea might be truly amazing, game-changing, something that can solve an age-old problem in a way no one was expecting. And in fact, you might even be somewhere between 10 percent to 99 percent of the way to making your original idea a viable reality.
There’s that one thing missing though, right? One element or component or action is stalling your momentum — not only keeping your idea from coming to fruition but keeping your project from moving forward at all.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, and I can abandon an idea within seconds, but sometimes it takes years before I finally give up. This isn’t because it took me forever to figure out that a particular idea wasn’t a winner. On the contrary, I still believe those were valid startup ideas.
But stalling out on an idea is easy to do. Here are some common points of failure and how to get past them.
Lack of definition
Your idea may not be well thought-out. And I’m sure you’ve probably considered this, but have you considered why? Because there may be something there after all.
Every product starts life as an idea that’s more a feeling or a vibe or even a brand. Every solution begins as a hypothesis. Some products and solutions can get very, very far without ever leaving that state.
Ask yourself: Is my product real? Can it stand on its own? Or is it an extension of something else? Are there benefits I can prove? Is there a value proposition I can offer? Can I quantify those benefits and that value?
If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then that’s where you start to attack.
Lack of definition isn’t just relegated to incomplete ideas. Your idea might be trying to be too many things to too many people. This is a common mistake for all entrepreneurs, regardless of experience, because we tend to think big.
The trick is to think big but start small.
Lack of communication
Most entrepreneurs don’t think about communication until the product is about to launch. This is a common mistake that leads to a lot of scrambling when those low initial sales numbers come in.
How you describe your idea today will become your positioning, your messaging, and your marketing tomorrow. If the description of your idea is full of adjectives and adverbs, if it’s vague in terms of benefit and value, or if it changes from week to week, then you aren’t in a place where you’re effectively communicating your idea, even if it is well defined.
Put yourself in the shoes of your customer or intended customer. Describe your product the way they would. This doesn’t have to be a full-blown user story exercise, but you should be able to adopt some of that language to describe the idea itself, and that language may get your execution unstuck.
Starting a company is like getting into your car without a destination in mind — you can journey forever without a target. Start narrowing down what that target should look like. If you’re already working with a team, involve all of them in this process.
Lack of demand
You may be building something nobody wants. There are huge differences between liking something and wanting something. For the last 10 years or so, social media/marketing has done a very good job of blurring those lines.
Your idea may be getting a lot of attention, even public attention from strangers, which is a very good sign. That doesn’t mean they’ll ultimately buy it. Is your idea the kind that will get hearts and likes or the kind that will get wallets to open?
And then finally, the toughest demand problem to solve is evolving the idea from nice-to-have to must-have. This problem is one that might not even reveal itself until you’re already in production and on the market, so chasing that answer now will pay dividends in the future.
I use the movie question for this problem: What kind of movie are you making? Is it the kind that people rush to see when it opens or will they wait for it to fall into a streaming service catalog? How must you change your idea to generate the kind of demand that makes the product a must-have?
Oh, then ask if it’s the kind of movie that people would see again.
Lack of value
There are very few people out there who will pay $20 for a $10 product. You can’t build a business catering to those customers. They tend to wind up not having a lot of disposable income because someone else will likely have gotten to them before you.
In fact, I like to put it this way: A product that costs $10 has to provide $20 worth of value to the customer. This is because it needs that extra $10 kick to make someone think of it and expend the energy to use it. People generally tend to stick with the status quo for as long as the status quo works, even when the status quo becomes a losing value proposition, because change is uncomfortable.
If your idea automates, then it can’t just be easier than the manual alternative, it has to be a lot easier, every time. If your idea costs less, it needs to cost a lot less while providing not just the same value, but more value. If your idea provides more accurate results, you have to sell the customer on why more accuracy is important, not just better.
Ask yourself how much that kick costs for the customer to abandon the status quo and adopt your solution. How much more value do you have to add?
Lack of economics
Once you answer the value questions, you might come up against the economic brick wall. Your idea may not be economically competitive with other products like it, or with the manual version of your product, or even with doing nothing at all because if change is uncomfortable, doing something completely new is often seen as more trouble than it’s worth.
This is where innovation comes into play.
True innovation doesn’t come from the idea, it comes from the work put into the execution that makes the idea economically feasible. Money can solve a lot of problems, but money isn’t innovation. Once the solution falls into an economic equation that makes sense to build a market around, the idea can take flight.
Until then, that idea might be more of a wish.
Lack of sales
Maybe you’ve got a great idea that’s fully formed, you can communicate it crisply, and you’ve found demand. The product you’ve built is valuable and the economics work.
If you’re still stuck, it might not be the idea or the product, it might be the machine that moves it.
Your sales channels might suck, your salespeople might suck, your sales process might suck. Any weakness in your sales and marketing chain can be enough to take the whole chain down.
Always be reviewing your sales process and the goals of your sales organization to make sure they’re aligned with what works for your product and your company. If that alignment doesn’t tie back to the idea and all of its benefits to the customer, make changes until it does.
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