Vision without execution is just hallucination.
1. Be critical
The first step is ensuring you have the right idea. Many entrepreneurs fall so in love with their own ideas that they fail to critically evaluate whether there is a market need for what they’re offering.
“A big part of developing a business idea and then your business model is done inside a bubble,” says Jamie Rood, co-founder of local start-up ClockWork. “You’re so busy working on your idea that you can easily get lost in an ego-centric attitude when you’re founding a company. You end up believing that you and only you have this huge, incredible solution that everyone needs.”
2. Solve a problem
Here’s the problem – unless you know you’re solving a real problem that people will pay for, all you have is an idea. Businesses need market traction, and that means customers – paying customers.
“The world is full of business ideas,” says Stuart Weaving, a globally successful entrepreneur and self-made millionaire.“But successful ideas find a problem that must be solved. As an entrepreneur, trust your gut. You’re a consumer yourself. You know what you like and dislike as a customer. You know what a good customer experience looks like. Don’t overcomplicate things; just find the best solution to the challenge you’ve spotted or are experiencing.”
Michelle Royston, founder of Waxit, a boutique chain of waxing salons in Johannesburg, launched her business because she couldn’t find a great waxing salon that could assist her at short notice. She also felt that waxing tended to be a painful, often unhygienic experience. She researched waxing salons globally and discovered that South Africa is one of the few countries that doesn’t have boutique wax salons. Through local research she also realised that there was a large untapped male customer based who felt uncomfortable with the female-centric salons available.
Waxit salons are stylish, gender-neutral salons that use imported wax, provide a pain-free experience, and always keep one room open for walk-ins. Royston has open four stores in under two years, and receives continuous franchising requests – all because she set out to solve a challenge that she was personally experiencing.
3. Do your research
Unless you’re getting into the market, knocking on doors and pounding the pavement, all you have is a set of assumptions, instead of real data. At its core, the lean start-up methodology advocates getting into the market as quickly as possible to test your theories. Businesses need market traction to be successful, and that requires customers to purchase your solution. Unless you have a deep understanding of customer needs however, it’s unlikely you will develop the best solution for their needs.
Many start-ups don’t do enough market research because it’s tough. It’s time-consuming and the number people who don’t even want to answer a few simple survey questions can be demoralising. But you have to persevere. The insights that research can offer are invaluable.
“You have to play the percentages,” says ClockWork’s Rood. “You need to make 200 phone calls to get 14 people to agree to a survey. When we were doing our research, one third sat down with us, and the rest requested tele interviews, emails, Google Forms – we had to find a number of different ways to connect with people. But we also had to keep picking up the phone until we had a large enough sample to work with.”
4. Execute, execute, execute
George Mienie, managing director of Autorader.co.za, says that you can put him in a room full of ‘ideas’ people and he’ll be instantly bored. Why? Because ideas are just ideas. The ability to execute an idea is where the magic happens and great businesses are born. Statistically, 98% of ideas don’t get past the ‘Ideas Phase’. “I love people who know how to execute an idea. It’s not easy, but it’s the difference between a successful business or division and an unsuccessful one,” says Mienie.
5. Know when to let go
Not all business ideas are great. Some seem good on the surface, but adequate research and even launching into the market will sometimes reveal flaws. If this happens you have two options: You can push ahead, or you can take the lessons you’ve learnt, accept that this particular idea didn’t work out, and start again.
“Industries change and opportunities come and go. If you want to enjoy long-term success, you must understand this,” says Weaving.
“An entrepreneur needs to be brave and tenacious, but that doesn’t mean that you should cling to a dying idea. Be open and realistic. Admit when it’s time to move on, whether that means pivoting the business, closing a department or selling the company completely. That ever be so married to a business or idea that you go down with it.”
Get into the market and interview as many of your potential customers as possible. Don’t rely on family and friends – you need to speak to the people who will pay you for your solution, because until they are willing to open their wallets, you don’t have a business.