We’re all steeped in some version of the American Dream. For some, the dream might sound like ‘work hard and it’ll pay off.’ For others, it may be, ‘Dream big. Shoot for the stars and you’ll get to the moon.’
For entrepreneurs, the dream goes something like, ‘Look at Dale Carnegie or Walt Disney. They saw a need and jumped on it, then built their empires. All you have to have is insight and dedication.’
Insight and dedication are certainly key attributes that an entrepreneur displays, but we’d like to take a step inward. Below, we argue that alongside a business idea, the entrepreneur must have a reason for starting a business and a way to determine if the business will work.
Reason 1: It’s about you, first.
Why do you want to start a business? Maybe you want to leave a legacy behind. Maybe you’re insatiably curious about how a certain industry works. Or, maybe you’re just looking for a way to survive and pay the bills.
Either way, what’s important is that you connect with your ‘why’ – and you don’t need a particular idea for that. Because after a business gets off the whiteboard or out of your head, the glowy, warm fuzzy we’re-gonna-change-the-world feeling wears off, and you’re left with a mountain of things to do, just to get started.
In fact, there are so many things that our change-the-world backpack suddenly becomes very heavy, and the only thing that can lighten it some days is reconnecting with our personal ‘why.’ It’s the stuff that keeps us looking forward to the good days and getting through the tough ones.
Reason 2: It’s about getting good at customer discovery.
Do you remember the first time you rode a bike? You learned a little bit about it before you got on one, and then it took a lot of practice to feel comfortable on it. If we consider that business is like riding a bike, not only do you always remember how to ride one – but the more you do it, the better you get.
Getting practiced means cycling through many ideas, learning when to dump the ones that don’t make sense and when to keep the ones that are working out. It may seem at first that you’ve only got one or two ideas, but after thinking about them, you’ll discover that more and more ideas pop out of the woodwork. So what’s most important is that you have a process that lets you test your ideas systematically.
If you can connect with your ‘why’ and are open to the possibility of exploring many ideas vs. one idea, you’ll have armed yourself with a framework so that any idea you have can be conceived, tested, and perhaps, executed.
Reason 3: It’s about the timing.
At some point, it does make sense to have an idea. But that doesn’t need to happen until you’ve developed an intuitive understanding of your customer’s problem and needs. Your job as the entrepreneur is to investigate the customer’s problem set by observing, asking questions, and listening. Then, you test out your understanding of their problems to see if you’ve got it right.
Finally, your role is to define the problem and propose a solution based on the customer’s needs. And that becomes your business idea – but it’s not really an idea, per se – it’s a deliberate conclusion you draw after doing your research.
Is it wrong to have a business idea, then?
Of course not! It’s totally ok to have a business idea when starting out, and many entrepreneurs do. But connecting with your ‘why’ and adopting a method are also just as fundamentally important. The business idea is just one piece of the puzzle.