Entrepreneurs who succeed in building strong, sustainable businesses know that success doesn’t come from a great idea.
And yet, this is what countless first-time entrepreneurs focus on. Finding the right idea can easily become an all-consuming task.
However, in order to succeed, entrepreneurs must make a critical shift: They have to go from thinking about their business in terms of themselves (“Here’s my idea” or “Here’s my product”), to thinking about it in terms of their customers (“Who are my customers, and what do they want?”).
It seems simple, but countless would-be entrepreneurs who do, in fact, have valuable ideas that could become profitable, end up stymied by the inability to focus on their customers.
Fred Cary, an attorney, investment banker, and serial entrepreneur, works with these types of entrepreneurs all the time. He’s the founder of IdeaPros, a business that mentors and partners with startup founders who have a product or app they’re developing.
Cary himself has taken three companies public, and raised billions in funding during his time as an investment banker.
Here’s what he had to say about helping founders succeed.
Finding the right idea
You can find the right idea fifty times, but it won’t count unless you’re able to capitalize on it. Typically, how I’ve capitalized on “the right ideas” from a strictly business standpoint is to find a niche, a hole, a demand that is not being served.
One way to look at it is you’re not looking for the donut—you’re looking for the hole. Whatever sector of the economy or industry you’re going into, you have to look for the holes. That’s what you need if you’re going to be really significant.
And, by the way, the other donuts around the world are going to want to acquire you.
The support every first-time entrepreneur needs
With every company I ever started, there was a lot of struggle. There were so many things I had to learn on my feet—and when you do that, you make a lot of mistakes. There are companies I did well with, but I think I could have done much better had I known everything I know now.
If you’re an already successful entrepreneur with a team of tech people helping you, and angel investors giving you funding, you’ll be fine.
But if you’re the guy or girl who’s been working a 9-5 for 10 years, and you’ve finally decided to jump off that cliff and invent a parachute on the way down, there’s no one to help you. There are companies that want to take advantage of you, and make promises they can never keep—the ones that capitalize on people who want to be inventors—and investors won’t give you the time of day. So there’s this whole world of entrepreneurship that’s not being served. That’s why I wanted to create a way to mentor and partner with them.
It’s so important to find people either in or outside your network who will support you in the journey.
Making the shift from “me” to “them”
The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs is to get away from building something that you think is cool and build something that your audience thinks is cool.
As entrepreneurs, we’ll wake up in the middle of the night with some great idea for a new product—we’ll think, “I would buy a gazillion of these things if they were in the marketplace!”
Well, the thing is you may only sell one, because you may be the only person that would buy one of these things.
So building something for yourself, going out and getting that patent right away, is the biggest mistake that a founder can make. We have to make that shift from what we want to what the world wants.
Finally, what I say to every entrepreneur is to be happy where you are on your journey. I have everyone I work with get a notebook or a journal and write a bit every day about what you’re doing to get a little closer to fulfilling your purpose in life. If you do that, every day you can have a little micro-victory. And that’s something to celebrate.