September 1, 2014

Never Start With a Great Idea

bad idea

That’s not that your product or service isn’t a great idea. But before you assume that concept in your head is solid gold, author and business writer Paul E. Brown has a suggestion for you.

Take a trip to the local closeout store and take a look at all the things someone else thought would be a good idea, too.

Brown says it’s a useful exercise to help entrepreneurs avoid the greatest pitfall when launching a new company, product or service.

In a recent Forbes post, Brown explains:

“Sure, some of the stuff was way over-priced to begin with.

And yes, some of the designs and colors left a lot to be desired.

But, invariably why the merchandise ends up being sold for literally pennies on the dollar is that their creators began by saying ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ instead of going and discovering ahead of time if there was a market need for what they were thinking about selling.”

So, What’s Wrong with Creating Something Cool?

Well, nothing, in theory, so long as a big enough consumer base agrees with you, says Jones.

There are all kinds of reasons they might not.

For example, nobody might care about your idea. Jones uses the example of an Agatha Christie themed set of pots and pans for people who like English mystery fiction and cooking. How many people are there who share those two particular passions? And how many of them will be really excited about your product?

There also may simply be no demand. Maybe there are a bunch of people who might buy into your idea. In this case, Jones uses the example of a “cable box cozy” for people who think an exposed satellite or cable box on your TV is ugly. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to run out and spend money on one.

People May not be willing to pay. Remember the Iridium satellite phone, says Jones. Yes, you can call anywhere, but those phone bills are murder.

So, aren’t there exceptions to some of these rules?

Think how indifferent Steve Jobs supposedly was to customer demand when developing products for Apple. But remember the strong demand for powerful personal computers, digital music players and portable devices. These markets were already present when Apple unveiled signature products like the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.

In the end, Jones insists, the best reason to create a product for an existing market is the time you’ll save.

He writes:

“Once you come up with your new idea you have to go out and find customers. If you start with a market need, you already have them.”

7 Comments ▼
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Shawn Hessinger - Editor


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Editor for Small Business Trends. He is a journalist and social media networker with more than a decade of experience in the traditional newspaper business before moving to the digital world. He was the former community manager of BizSugar and the former community editor at AllAnalytics, a site dedicated to professionals in the business intelligence and analytics community.

7 Reactions

  1. Hi Shawn,
    I really enjoy reading this article. I feel that there is nothing wrong with starting with amazing ideas or products, as long as there is some previous market research to find out whether the product will be accepted or not, and most importantly knowing about the feelings of the target audience the product is intended for.
    Let me know what you think.

    • So, how do you conduct market research, without it will cost you an arm and leg?

      • Hi Martin,
        By your comment I feel that you misunderstood I was suggesting that market research was cheap. I just want to make clear that I’ve said that.
        However, I feel that market research is a crucial step in product development. Primary research is information that comes directly from the source–that is, potential customers. You can compile this information yourself or hire someone else to gather it for you via surveys, focus groups and other methods. Secondary research involves gathering statistics, reports, studies and other data from organizations such as government agencies, trade associations and your local chamber of commerce. The good news is that plenty of information is available for free to entrepreneurs or small business on a tight budget. The best places to start? Your local library and the internet

  2. Shawn,

    I have to “chew” your post for a bit! ;) I am involved in a new venture that is a twist on an already existing product. The challenge is to “create” the demand for this product that will develop more into a lifestyle product, compared with the existing product that is more of a traditional nature.

    How would you test our good idea in a smart way?

  3. I believe, if a market doesn’t exist for a good idea you have, it’s sometimes possible to create a market for it, and a need. It’s just a lot harder and riskier.

  4. Jose Capelo: I didn’t suggest that market research is cheap. How could a survey and focus work, practically for a new type of product? Could you trust the stats, floating around? I am playing devil’s advocate here a bit! ;)

    I am curious to know how I can proceed in order to know if I really have a good idea, or not.

    What would Steve Jobs do?

  5. I understand what you mean. But I think that you are pertaining more to ideas that might not be as good to other people. I still think that the idea is more important as this determines the unique selling proposition of a company. It should just be presented to make sure that other people are also as accepting of the idea.

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