Json SurfrApp is the founder of IWearYourShirt.com. His new book, Creativity For Sale, is an in-depth look at how to turn passion into profit.


You have an idea, now what?

If you’re anything like me you have ideas all the time. Maybe your ideas come to you in the shower, while driving somewhere, while reading a book, or during some other activity. For many of us, it’s not coming up with an idea that’s the hard part, it’s what the heck to do next.

A few weekends ago, I got to spend some time with my good friend Greg Hartle at a Startup Weekend event in South Florida. Greg and I were both speakers at the event, and the subject of his talk was: What’s next?

If you aren’t familiar with Startup Weekend, it’s a 54-hour event where anyone can get on stage, pitch an idea for a business/app/product/service, and build a team of fellow entrepreneurs to make that idea happen. The great thing about Startup Weekend events is that there are no shortage of ideas.

The tough part about Startup Weekend is that it can leave many people wondering how to proceed with their idea. I highly recommend attending one if you can find one in your area.

As Greg started his talk he pulled a blue combination lock (the one with the dial on the front that spins in both directions) from his pocket. Holding the lock in one hand and the microphone in the other, he handed the lock to a nearby attendee and asked her to open the lock. He told her he couldn’t leave the stage until the lock was open.

Immediately this attendee went to work spinning the dial of the lock. She put it next to her ear and spun it. She looked at it and spun it. She even started Googling “how to unlock a combination lock.” All the while, Greg went on to share his story and talk about entrepreneurship.

A few minutes later Greg asked the woman how she was doing with the lock. She responded that she was “working on it.” Greg said he had a piece of advice lots of entrepreneurs get to help them have success: Put in more hard work. So he asked her to put in a little more effort into unlocking the lock.

With little progress, Greg offered another piece of advice: Use your passion. She channeled this suggestion by standing up and yelling “woo!”

A few minutes later Greg had more advice. This time he said “you have a team of people around the table, get them to help you.” She quickly huddled the six people at the table with her and passed the lock around. Everyone kind of shrugged their shoulders and tried spinning the dial in random directions.

Lastly, Greg gave the final piece of advice: “Maybe you need more money to get the lock open?” He pulled some cash out of his pocket and handed it to someone at the table (to which that person shoved it in his pocket, causing the crowd and myself to laugh).

At this point Greg had asked this table of people to open a combination lock using hard work, passion, teamwork and money. All of those things are typical pieces of advice for entrepreneurs to be successful. Yet, as you can imagine, none of these things helped the attendees open the lock.

Finally someone from the crowd shouted “Just give them the combination!”

Greg smiled.

He pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket and said: “Why don’t you try this: 34, 20, 6.”

A few seconds later the lock was open.

Taking action

coffee ideas The truth about bringing your business ideas to life

Entrepreneurs have a bias toward taking action, which is great, but to take an idea and move it forward, you need to analyze and adjust. You need to understand that every business and every idea has a different combination for success.

Unlike a combination lock, there’s no secret code to creating a successful business. Unfortunately, hard work, passion, teamwork, and money aren’t the solution to the problem either.

So this story is fun to read, but how can you analyze and adjust your idea and turn it into an actual business?

The first thing to do is customer research. If you have an idea, you should also have thoughts about who your potential customers are. Find those people and bring your idea to them. I recommend working on your value proposition (look for Step 1) first, so you’re ready to answer their questions.

The next step is the analyze the feedback you get from those potential customers. Do you see any trends? Do you see any big gaps that need filling? Were people excited? Did anyone say “I’d buy/support that thing today!”

Take all initial feedback and adjust your idea accordingly. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon your initial vision, but it does mean you should listen and tweak your idea based on what your potential customers had to say.

From here you want to build a Minimum Viable Product (or MVP). This is the most basic version of your product or service so that you can get it out into the world and see if people will buy it (maybe it’s an e-commerce website, a prototype product, a basic iPhone App wireframe, etc).

When your MVP is ready, go back to those first potential customers and see if they’ll pay you money for your thing. If they aren’t interested, why not? Is it the price point? Is it the way you’re pitching the product? Again, analyze their feedback and see what you can learn.

Another thing you can do at this point is share your MVP with your friends and family. What do they have to save about it? Don’t ask them to buy it, just ask for feedback and recommendations. If they aren’t potential customers, take buying feedback with a grain of salt. If your friends and family might know your potential customers, ask for introductions.

As you start to talk to more people you want to continue to analyze the responses you’re getting and adjust your business plan and strategy. You might need to scrap your first prototype entirely and start fresh. You might need to change the customer you are targeting. There is a lot of testing and tweaking you should be doing, and that’s perfectly okay.

Orrett Davis was the Startup Weekend organizer and he has this absolutely fantastic quote:

“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once”

Having your idea is just the first step in a long line of steps. And while a lot of steps you take will be in the wrong direction, eventually you’ll find the right combination of things that bring you success.

Unfortunately, no one can give you the perfect combination right now, and everyone’s combination is going to be different.

I hope this helps you take the next step with your idea. I highly recommend finding people who will help you take action and then analyze and adjust that action (even better if they’re people local to you).