If you have any desire to become an entrepreneur then you might want to keep reading. Why? Because I was in your shoes before. And perhaps like you, I tried to read and watch as much content as possible on how to start your own business. I was looking for the secret, the shortcut, or the magic recipe for how to make it work. I did experiments with myself like writing down ideas on my white board. I followed step by step guides on how to come up with the right business for me. I kept a dream journal. I kept track of trending products and topics. And I owned a miniature library of the top entrepreneurship books. Everything I had or did, I was expecting that to give me the answer. The answer of what to sell, how to sell, and most importantly how to start.
I was a serial wantrepreneur. I would come up with idea after idea. These ideas ranged from simple tools like an automatic tea bobber to a new technology that is futuristic even by Star Wars’ standards. However, none of these tricks and methods worked for me. Sure, they got my brain moving. But they weren’t solving the real issue. The real issue was what can I sell? Emphasis on ‘I’. Am I going to come up with the next Death Star-like technology? No. Am I going to invent Aloe Vera-infused bed sheets that are going to sooth my sunburn at night? No. I needed to find something that I could sell. And sometimes that answer is right in front of you day in and day out. Sometimes the answer is right under your nose and is the most obvious answer.
I was and am a tea junkie. I have 2-3 cups of tea per day. I usually have green tea in the morning, followed by a white tea in the afternoon, and ended with a cup of chamomile tea in the evening. I love tea. So then I started thinking of how I can use tea as my idea. Well starting another standard tea company would have been silly. There are too big of players out there to succeed. I needed something special about my tea that would make it sell. Then I thought about another passion of mine. The great outdoors. Specifically, the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate NY. I spend a lot of time there growing up and even went to college just outside the giant state park. After verifying that there wasn’t any tea company that had already claimed themselves as the tea company of the Adirondacks, I jump on the opportunity.
I was super nervous to actually start. What if I failed? What if no one bought my tea? What if friends and family didn’t like my idea or laughed at me? These were all running through my head. And I had a very simple solution that just made perfect sense to me. My solution was to not tell anybody until I started making sales. So, for the first 8 months or so I didn’t tell a soul that I was attached to this project, or that I even had something in the works. I did this for a couple reasons. For one, if I did failed I could slip away into the night and part without no one knowing I failed. And two, I needed to validate my idea before I went in on spending a bunch of money on startup costs and inventory.
Idea validation is perhaps the most important thing to do as an entrepreneur. What is it? Well simply put, it’s the process of making sure people resonate with your idea or product. In other words, will you have customers before you launch? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you have validated a demand for your product. If ‘no’, then you have to tweak your idea until it is validated or you may have to start fresh with a different idea. How do you validate your ideas?
Well, there’s a bunch of different ways to validate your ideas. The most classic example would be to ask your friends, family, colleagues, or professors if they like the idea. However, just asking them if they like it isn’t enough. You have to get them to pay you money for it. There’s been a lot of times where people ask their friends if they like the idea, but then when it comes to paying money for it they say no or make an excuse. The big flaw with this method is that an idea isn’t truly validated until there is an exchange of money. Because that’s what a business is. They can tell you how great your idea is but if they never hand your money for you to go get that product for them, then there is no validation. There is only validation if you have get a customer that pays money for your product. This method of validation is great and all, but I went a different route to validate my idea. I started a social media page for my future company. And I marketed it to everyone that was involved in the Adirondack Mountains. I targeted them as well as tea companies to keep a finger on the pulse of the tea industry. But mainly my focus was on hikers and people that lived and visited the Adirondacks. And over time of being consistent posting pictures and videos, I had a nice little following. I really should say that it was a great following because I had people in that network messaging me about what my company and when do we open. I had future customers reaching out to me about when they can place an order. You may think that since there technically wasn’t an exchange of money that it’s not validation. However, this is different than the first method I talked about. These were random people that were seeking me out for my product. Not me seeking others for my product. I look at those two scenarios very differently.
Once I had people eager to place an order with me, the next thing I had to do was make a business out of the following I had on social media. I needed to turn my fake business into a real business. And this meant creating an ecommerce website and getting inventory. Now, in order to get inventory you first need a supplier. And this can be a dreadful process. The right supplier is tough to come by so make sure to do a thorough search and vetting process to land on the right supplier for you.
I outsourced almost every part of my business expect for the operations. I outsource marketing to my best friend from college who was a solid photographer. He took pictures and videos for me and I just posted them. I outsourced manufacturing to my supplier. I outsourced the creation of my logo to my brother who is a tremendous digital artist. I outsourced the making of my website to a Shopify expert I found online that would make my website stand out from others. I set everything up in a way so all I had to do is post content to my social media page a few times a week, receive orders, and send orders out through a small business deal with UPS. That’s basically it. The only other thing I had to do was reorder inventory when that got low, but that was as easy as send an email to my supplier telling them how much of what do I need. After all the startup work was over, all I had to do is maintain everything that I’ve already built and keep track of orders.
The biggest thing I learned about this whole process was how to get started. I didn’t know how to take the first step. I was scared and was probably procrastinating. I’m sure I came up with a lot of excuses not to do something. I was a wantrepreneur. The way I got out of that cycle was by validating my idea before I even told anyone what I was doing. For me, this was a way to mitigate risk by making sure I had customers before ordering a bunch of inventory. This was also a way for me to avoid humility if I failed. But more importantly, this was a way to build my confidence to keep going. You see, once you have momentum it’s easy. The hard part is starting. Then once you see people responding positively to your ideas, you then build up your confidence and momentum.
Always validate your ideas. It may be a good idea to you, but only when your target market validates your ideas is when you truly have something worth going for. Go for it and become and entrepreneur.