Category Archives: Business

Developing an idea for a business

Often wanna-be entrepreneurs place too much emphasis on the idea and not enough on the hard work that follows. However the idea is not to be discounted. It is the zygote that grows into your business.

I specifically used the word “developing” in the title of this post rather than “finding”, “thinking of”, or “creating”. Rarely does inspiration for a business arrive with a flash of lightning. Rather you notice something and think that you can fix it or do better. You further refine and develop that idea as you think about the market and marketing, about creating and accounting, and about failure and success.

Often an idea is pivoted on many times before an entrepreneur deems it ready to start a business. It continues to evolve based on the obstacles presented up to, and after, getting their product or service in front of customers.

Before looking for business ideas it is important to remember that a great business is one that provides a solution to a problem.

Here are a few places to search for inspiration:

Your place of work

 

Every single company has inefficiencies

Every. Single. Company. Has. Inefficiencies.

Every problem is an opportunity so when you or a co-worker complain about a process that is broken what you really have is something that needs a solution. You can be the one to provide that solution.

Paper forms are a classic place where there is an inefficiency that either need not exist or can be lessened through technology. Pretty much any tool of bureaucracy (including more modern ones such as email and CRM systems) is as much of a problem as it is a solution. Fertile ground for a dedicated individual or group of individuals to disrupt.

Every problem is an opportunityThere are many advantages to creating solutions for problems in your workplace with the two main ones being your industry expertise (often referred to as your unfair advantage) and the fact that businesses are willing to pay for solutions (whereas consumers are often not). Even seemingly small things such as industry-specific Excel templates or Powerpoint consulting can yield big bucks.

Other industries

Many times, particularly when it comes to technology, advances in other industries will eventually reach yours. Examples that come to mind are CRM systems for contractors and ordering from restaurants on the web or phone apps.

Ask your friends about new things that happening in their industries and see if you have ideas about how to apply it to yours.

Other countries

Due to technology, language, and culture many businesses start in one country and take time to cross borders. After eBay started up entrepreneurs around the world created auction sites for their own country and in their own language. eBay ended up competing with or buying many of them but some are still around today. A more recent example is local car-sharing companies starting up in cities around the world before Uber entered them.

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to technology. There is a Japanese-style cat cafe coming to a city near you.

Your hobbies

Passion is the most important trait for an entrepreneur.

This method of finding business ideas is better than any other for one reason. If you do something as a hobby the chances are that you are passionate about it and passion is the most important trait for an entrepreneur.

The catch to monetizing a hobby is finding a way to present it as a solution that somebody would pay for. It is much easier said than done as many craft-lovers have found out. (Luckily sites like Etsy have made it easier for people to find buyers for their goods.) The challenges of turning a hobby into a business have soured many would-be entrepreneurs on both their business and their hobby.

If you go this routes then taking baby steps while you still work full-time is often a prudent approach.

The news

Keeping abreast of macro changes to industries and the economy can yield a wealth of business ideas. When something fundamental changes it opens up opportunities that didn’t previously exist. You’re reading this on the biggest fundamental change of our lifetimes: the Internet.

Legislation can create opportunities as new laws, or the repeal of old laws, open or level markets. Subprime loans created many opportunities to make a lot of money in the run up to the housing crisis and the fallout opened up other opportunities.

Keep an objective and open mind when you read a news article and ask yourself these two questions:

  • What are ways that somebody can make money off of this?
  • Is this something I would want to spend the next ten years of my life doing?

Your idea is not unique

You are not the first person to have you idea. No matter what somebody else, somewhere, has had the same idea. Maybe the acted on it and maybe they didn’t. If you think your idea is truly unique then that is a cause for concern because if nobody else has done it then maybe there is no market for it.

Part of developing your idea is creating a business plan (even a basic one) which forces you to think objectively about the prospects and challenges for your business. You’re going to be way too optimistic the first time around so have somebody you respect read it and let them poke holes in it. The process will hurt but not as much as failing farther down the line when a lot more is at stake.

Eventually you will have developed your business idea enough that you cannot do anything else but move forward. Starting a business is both very exciting and very scary. Remember that you cannot fail unless you quit trying.

National Entrepreneurship Month

National Entrepreneurship MonthNational Entrepreneurship Month just ended but I believe that every day is a great day to start, build, and grow a business. With that in mind PersonalOpz is extending entrepreneurship month through December! (Gotta make money to pay for all of that holiday shopping right?)

Look for a lot of content posted every day. I have a backlog of entrepreneurial advice gathered from my favorites lectures and podcasts that I will be rolling out throughout the month. There will also be a few books being launched that you can receive for free by signing up for the mailing list (look right).

Learn by DoingStart off the month by downloading the ebook Learn by Doing for free. It is a collection of advice from truly amazing entrepreneurs such as Ben Horowitz (Andreessen Horowitz), John Collison (Stripe), and Joshua Reeves (ZenPayroll).

To make sure that you remain productive this month I challenge you to write down one big goal you would like to accomplish during the month. Write it down on paper and tape it above your desk. After doing that break down the steps you need to do to achieve it. First the large steps (weekly) and finally the smaller steps (daily). Now you have a plan to make sure that you finish the month off with solid progress and build some great momentum into the new year.

Have a productive and rewarding month!

First Review Of My Software

A couple of days ago I was looking through the analytics for one of my web apps (I’m currently testing out Heap Analytics and am pleased so far) and saw some traffic was coming from a particular website. I clicked through to it and found a roundup of products in my space (film production software) with a two or three paragraph review of each. And my product was included!

The only problem was that the article was in Spanish. Even after two years of Spanish in high school and two and a half years of Spanish in college (not to mention living in Los Angeles for 15 years) I cannot read or speak it. I can speak just enough to get by in a foreign country with active use of hand gestures. (Thankfully most people are too polite to roll their eyes as I’m throwing around more gestures than a third-base coach.)

I used Google Translate on it and learned that my site has an attractive design! It also praised the number of options and said that the majority of it was simple to use. So far so good.

Unfortunately the review went downhill from there. It said, “almost nothing works as it should.” It followed that with an example but the translation lost the context. More tutorials was also mentioned as something needed. In the end I did not get a recommendation. The blow was softened as the reviewer said, “give it time to grow.”

I’m definitely going to need to solicit more feedback and get some more example workflows (it seems like everybody producing movies has their own workflow). And I’m going to keep improving on what I have until my software is something that people want to recommend to their friends and peers.

Even though it wasn’t favorable I’m honored to have been included in that review and am going to take it as an opportunity to do better. If my software isn’t helping my users then I need to know about it. I’ve still got a lot of work ahead of me.

(As an aside I’m not sure why Google Alerts didn’t pick this up. Maybe due to it being in another language?)

Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are

I imagine this Harvard Business Review article, “Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are“, hits home for many of us.

We’re all just so “busy” these days. “Slammed” in fact. “Buried.” Desperately “trying to keep our heads above water.” While these common responses to “How are you?” seem like they’re lifted from the Worst Case Scenario Handbook, there seems to be a constant exchange, even a a one-upping, of just how much we have on our plates when we communicate about our work.

I’ve found that the best way for me to not feel busy, and to instead feel productive, is to tame my inbox.

Want to become a billionaire?

I thought this list from the Harvard Business Review of company mission categories was inspirational:

  1. Making the world more beautiful.
  2. Making the world more fun.
  3. Making the world more efficient and smart.

They go on to highlight some billionaires whose companies fit those categories. They all fit my personal mantra (which I think I stole from Justin Rosenstein of Asana but I’m sure he doesn’t mind) which is “have a positive impact on the world.”

Amazon product searches

I think this site is too cool not to share. MerchantWords shows you what Amazon users are searching for and how many are searching for a particular term. If you produce/sell a physical product, or are thinking about doing so, then it should be your next stop on the web.

Resources for Startup Engineering Students

There are a bunch of great resources on the Internet for people interested in startups. A lot of people have made the journey before and shared their success stories, mistakes, and wisdom. Many of them share freely and I’ve collected some of those below.

 

Podcasts: 

Startups for the Rest of Us is a podcast hosted by two solo software developers who offer advice on the challenges of running a startup by yourself.

Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders is the most inspirational thing I’ve ever listened to. Great speakers week after week. I’m sharing my notes as I relisten to each one.

Ebooks:

You can get a free PDF copy of Getting Real which was written by the founders of 37 Signals which is the company behind Basecamp.

Copy Hackers is a site that focuses on the copy that you use on your home page and how that impacts the conversion rate of your visitors into customers. It is a surprisingly large topic.

The Lost Copy Hackers Ebook: Proven Persuasion Strategies is a free book they offer.

Some worksheets you should go through before launching your landing page: Copy Hackers Worksheets.

Nathan Barry has a guide about designing effective forms. What is an effective form? One that gets people to fill it out. You can download the guide for free by…filling out the form at the bottom of this page.

And if you’re looking for some tips on being productive Nathan Barry has a free ebook titled The Productivity Manifesto.

Seth Godin has numerous books available for free that are geared towards entrepreneurship.

Rob Walling (of the Startups for the Rest of Us podcast) has a free ebook on startup marketing that you can get by signing up for his newsletter on his site.

Paul Graham (of Y Combinator and Hacker News) has a collection of essays available that have been widely argued about discussed.

An oldie but a goodie is The Incredible Secret Money Machine by Don Lancaster.

Steve Blank (one of the original forces behind the Lean Startup movement) has a free book available called The Four Steps to the Epiphany.

Once you’ve got your sales page ready you can start to optimize it so that it shows up higher in the Google search results. Google themselves released a guide to help you with that.

Websites:

If you’re doing a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startup then this is a great blog to read for insights on landing pages, pricing, etc.

Hacker News is a website which features stories, and at times great discussions, on startups, entrepreneurship, technology, etc.