So, you’ve had a great idea. Sitting over a well-earned drink after work watching the world go by, it came to you. It was so good you had to scribble it down on the drinks coaster, or maybe a paper napkin. In bed that night, foot twitching and mind whirring with ideas, you can hardly sleep even though you have a heavy day coming up. It’s perfect, even brilliant - customers will love it.
Setting aside the possibility that you were simply suffering from a rush of blood to the head, or an overdose of whatever was in the glass on top of the drink coaster, should you forge ahead regardless of any opposition? Do you really need to waste any more time researching; shouldn’t you get going before someone else steals it? On the other hand, what if it’s a dud?
Christi Scovel and Tina Cannon thought their concept of a pet health resource that pet owners could understand and trust was perfect. After all, they’d had a beloved pet so they knew the problems from personal experience. Or, in the case of Anna Louise Simpson, trying to force down the bitter raspberry leaf tea she had to drink to bring on an overdue labour, she was pretty sure every girl battling morning sickness and other pregnancy challenges would be happy to find a more palatable way to down their herbal concoctions. Her tasty therapeutic tea idea would be a sure fire winner.
In each case their original ideas had to change.
PetsMD evolved in a completely different direction and is now a software business specialising in online veterinary appointment booking.
Mama Tea blends and sells caffeine free infusions that taste delicious.
The turning point for your idea is moving from what you think is a great concept, to one that your customers are willing to pay you for - your great idea must solve their pain point.
Says Tina Cannon “I had too many ideas on ways to monetise the site: First we were going to be about content and ads, then products, then subscriptions… and the list went on and on with no focus. Lesson learned. I needed to hone in on a real revenue generator.”
In doing their research amongst veterinarians and pet owners, Christi and Tina discovered that pet owners wanted to find the right products and be guided to a veterinarian, while veterinarians needed to manage their reception, reach new clients and retain existing ones while measuring ad spend. Within a short period they moved to a software-as-a-service, or SaaS, business model selling appointment-booking software with vets, rather than pet owners, as their customers.
Anna Louise realised that while the health benefits of the herbs for pregnant and nursing mothers might be there, she needed to focus on the caffeine free benefits if she wanted to appeal and make sales to a broader market. It was finding a caffeine free drink that still tasted good that was important both to the mothers as well as to many other people trying to reduce their caffeine intake.
Smaller companies have a valuable competitive advantage when it comes to adapting to meet customers’ needs – they are not so big that changing direction is akin to turning around an ocean liner. Modifying or changing your original concepts doesn’t mean you failed.
Your first idea is simply a seed, a source of inspiration for creating a product or service your customer will want to buy from you. Put that way, it doesn’t matter if that original seed ends up as an apple tree or a passionfruit vine instead – as long as there are customers willing to buy and eat the fruit!
Your business idea serves as a tipping point that allows you to channel your passion and energy in a direction. Once you’ve come up with your original concept you then need to fine-tune it to meet the needs of your local market. Be open to failing. Be prepared to change and be flexible. Take Tina’s advice, “The idea in your head or scribbled on a napkin is probably crap. But go ahead and pursue it anyway… if all else fails, try a variation of the directions you see on the back of shampoo bottles: ‘Try. Fail. Repeat’.”