So I put together a short guide on starting a business. Everything you need to know to get started can be pretty much summed up in this post. It’s a combination of an awesome Quora answer I found on this subject plus a post I wrote for the Productive Muslim a while ago. It also includes a case study, in case you wanted to get someone to help you work through your business idea. This is a massive topic that requires you to find solutions that fit your own personal needs, so take this a simple guide. Nothing more.
How Can I Start a Business 101
Here’s the shorthand:
1) Find a problem.
2) Solve the problem.
3) Turn the solution into a service or product.
4) Sell your solution.
5) (Sit on a sun-drenched beach sipping cocktails… HAH!)
1) Take something you’re passionate about. eg Soccer.
2) Find the market gap (the underserved area or issue within your passion). eg. Soccer balls don’t give feedback. But in your New World, Soccer Balls have sensors that know the parameters of the field (for boundary issues). They know their speed, and who kicked or dribbled them, when and how fast, with how much English on the ball.
3) Prototype using existing hardware. Beg and borrow the talent to make it happen.
4) Presell it to individuals, teams and the market channel using Kickstarter, Indiegogo or similar crowdfunding service (so you’re both preselling AND funding, all in one fell swoop).
5) Get busy marketing.
6) And better get into production. Refine. Test and otherwise make happy customers. Iterate fast.
The best thing you can do for yourself is…
Find a Startup Weekend near you, and join a team. You’ll learn more, have more fun, and find Your Tribe – the people who will join you, or who you can join, to experience what a startup feels like.
Even after 13 startups across 25+ years, StartupWeekend taught me as much as anything I had ever learned prior. AND it released me from the old 18-24 month “idea to launch” startup cycle. Invaluable lessons there.
Oh, and one more thing:
Doing startups takes guts. They’re painful. They will absorb every moment of your day (it’s 11:49 as I craft this pithy response, and I have been up since 7:40 answering emails. Developing product. Working on a website. Handling some unique customer service issues. Making payroll for my employees. Putting specific ingredients aside to complete a new SleepNutrients product tomorrow. And contacting a half dozen professional sports trainers to meet me at the gym tomorrow at noon to sample some new products and try a new device I developed).
Your startup will own you.
But, as a pharmacist, you already know what long hours are like.
And you’re clearly smart enough to have acquired a degree in pharmacology. So now, all you need is an idea and commitment.
Here’s a sad story, and a lesson:
A few years ago I helped a guy launch a cool product called StairCycle. It was a really solid product idea. And he even had it manufactured like a pro.No problems there.
We got him on a Yahoo Small Business Contest – and he won! Richard Branson (yes, THAT Richard Branson, of Virgin fame) had us Fedex a StairCycle to his private Island. He loved it, and crowned it Best New Product of the Year. He even had the founder of StairCycle meet him in Times Square, announced on national TV, with a PR campaign, and $100,000 in advertising and web development provided by Yahoo.
It’s a home-run, right?
I called the owner a few weeks later to ensure everything was on schedule (production, the new website, ads, PR, deliveries, channel relationships with bike shops, Target, etc…).
Guess where he was?
Sitting on his new Barcalounger, watching his new 50″ TV. And he told me he’s tired, and didn’t feel like he could handle the pressure of the startup life. His day job as an X-Ray tech gave him enough money that he didn’t feel the burn a true entrepreneur feels for his vision, customers, products, employees, partners and investors.
The company died that day.
He could have owned a multi-million dollar company with just that one product. It was slick, easy to ride, fun, and a great workout.
But being an entrepreneur means more than a great idea and a killer product launch. It means you invest yourself, your soul, into your work. Maybe not forever. But definitely long enough to get momentum, stability and the resources to hire real players to fill-in your team. Even a CEO/President to run the dang thing when you’re about ready to die from too many 100 hour weeks.
But… it’s worth it.
Even when you fail.
Because you’ve become a greater contributor to the world through your actions, commitment, learning, and hopefully, giving.
Starting a company is probably only second to raising my kids. It’s opened a world to me, my employees and associates that I could not have imagined. And the successes so far outweigh the failures and stillborn businesses, I now consider them stepping stones, rather than the huge sinkholes they appeared to be at the time.
So go for it.
The roadmap is easy.
All you need to do is put in The Work.
(See ‘s classic The War of Art to understand what it takes to face down The Resistance you’ll find in every corner of being an entrepreneur).
Best of success to you,
What Should Your Business Be About?
When beginning your entrepreneurial journey, it’s less important to be looking for a “big idea” like the next Google or the next Facebook but more important to look for a business idea that matches your skills, knowledge level and, most importantly, is solving a problem for your intended market.
Separate Facts from Fiction
You’ve probably dreamed about starting and growing a successful business. You’ve also probably thought that your idea had to be original or that you have to wait for the ‘right time’.
For every great idea out there that becomes a business, there are thousands of ideas that don’t end up successful.
Contrary to popular belief, what you would be surprised to learn is that most successful businesses1 we see today were a result of a simple idea executed successfully by a smart team. They never waited for the ‘right time’. They just went ahead and started. If you study successful businesses, either small enterprises or large Fortune 500 companies, you will learn that they rarely reinvented the wheel either. They simply made an existing idea better. They looked at the marketplace, identified a gap in the market and said: “How do I make this better?”
It’s not about the idea that you have, but rather the execution of that idea.1
Here is the simple formula that makes up a successful business idea: find a problem or a pain-point for someone and provide a solution.
Finding a pain point means that you must be solving a problem for someone that they are willing to pay for that is better than what already exists. What can you do that will make something easier for someone? What can you create that will make life more enjoyable for someone? What can you build that will help uplift someone or bring happiness to someone?
This is the starting point of finding a great idea.
Practical Steps to Finding a Good Business Idea
If you are starting from scratch, follow along below:
Step 1: Who are you?
Think about your work history. What have you done? What fields have you worked in? Do you have hobbies? What skills do you have? What activities do you enjoy doing? What do you like? What do you love to do?
On a blank piece of paper, write down five things about yourself.
- I love taking care of children.
- I love helping people market their business.
- I love making cupcakes.
- I love taking photographs of people on their wedding day.
- I love creating beautifully-designed posters for people.
Don’t think too much about what you are writing. Take your time, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and write down whatever comes to mind first.
This step is important because you will be acquainted with specific industries, markets, and communities you can solve problems for.
Step 2: Identify Problems in Your Everyday life
In contemporary business discussion, you will hear that the best way to find a business idea is to solve a problem for yourself.
What problems do you face on a day-to-day basis that you wish there was a solution for? List all the problems you face in your day-to-day life.
- Are there things you wish were easier while working at your job or on your hobbies?
- Have you been in a situation where something happened that you didn’t like?
- Did you have to learn or do something the hard way and found an easier way to do it?
- Is there a product or service you wish you had to make your life easier?
- Is there a skill or piece of knowledge that you are passionate about that you can ‘niche-down’ for a particular audience?
Step 3: Combine Your Skills with Potential Problems
The third step is to see whether you can identify opportunities to develop a business idea based on markets, fields or communities you are familiar with that also match your skills and passions. Let’s look at some examples:
- Were you a full-time working parent and found yourself needing affordable daycare for your children? Are there opportunities to start a daycare in your neighbourhood? Even better, think smaller: what about providing Islamic daycare for young Muslim families?
- Love photography? Are there opportunities for you to photograph clients for a fee? Even better, think smaller: what about catering to shooting female-only (if you are a woman) or male-only (if you are a man) events? What about shooting weddings for Muslim couples?
- Love graphic design? Are there opportunities in your network to provide beautifully designed posters for events? How about designing for a few events for free and see what response you get?
- Your best ideas may come from your network: Identify entrepreneurs and business people in your network who you can bounce ideas off of. They might lead you to a new direction.
- Find inspiration: Sometime the best ideas come when you aren’t thinking about business, they come when you are inspired. The best way to be inspired is to do what you love: paint, take a walk, go surfing – do something you enjoy and you might come across great ideas for a new business
- Context – remain aware of your environment: Keep up with the local news, read more industry magazines. Are there opportunities, trends or potential booming demographics that you can provide a possible product or service for? Are there markets that are underserved and needing solutions?
The Key is Creating Value
Finding a business idea is not as complicated as one might think. All around us, there are needs that are waiting to be fulfilled! The most important thing is to realize that it doesn’t need to be original or unique; you must simply try to improve upon existing solutions to the problem that you are trying to solve.
Value creation is the core of any successful business. When you solve a pain-point or a problem for someone, you are creating value.
Whenever you come across an opportunity, ask yourself these questions:
- How can I improve on this?
- Is there a market that is underserved and how can I better meet their needs?
- Can I run a better, more efficient business than that person over there?
In no time, you will have a flood of ideas coming your way and ample opportunities to create value and serve your market; and with the right amount of planning and effort, you will have a thriving business, In sha Allah.
Download this case-study to work through a real-life business idea.