Help! I don't know if my idea is any good...

This column first appeared in Silicon Prairie News for Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, where Aimee serves women entrepreneurs as Senior Director of the Prosper Institute. Thanks, SPN!

Dear Prosper Women Entrepreneurs,

I’ve never started a business, but I am always coming up with ideas. I’m good at identifying solutions to problems I see, but get stuck there. How can I start turning some of these ideas into businesses? How do I know if my ideas are any good?


A Million Ideas

Dear Million,

Author, strategist and St. Louis ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ Scott Ginsberg has said, “You don’t need an idea, you need an I-did.” You, Ms. Million, know this well! You’ve got the first step down – noticing a customer need, a gap in the market, a problem to solve. Having the knowledge, resources and gumption to turn your idea into an enterprise is what makes the differences between a creative idea-generator and an entrepreneur. So where to start?

Begin with a feasibility check:

  • Product/Service Feasibility: Can the product you have in mind actually be created? Is the service something that can be delivered?
  • Market Feasibility: Is the product or service something the market needs? Will it be accepted by customers? Is there demand?
  • Financial Feasibility: Do you have the resources to develop your idea? Can you find partners to support you? How much would it cost to develop? Can you make enough revenue to be profitable?

Just as there is a difference between an idea and a product, there is a difference between an innovation and a scalable business. Something might be interesting, and even needed, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got a business. Imagine an app that goes viral with many $1.99 downloads in the first few weeks but doesn’t get much traction after that. Cool, but not a company!

Prosper Mastermind participant Zoe Scharf was bored with sending impersonal well-wishes to friends and family, so with her cofounder Joe Fischer helped create greetbl, a company that helps you send personalized, affordable, three-dimensional greetings.

These unique gifts are certainly a design innovation (and really cool-looking!), but greetbl would not have been a viable and successful company had Zoe not thought carefully about feasibility, learned what it would take to turn her idea into a business and made adjustments as the market required.

Once you’ve run your idea through these “feasibility checks”, the next step to seeing if the idea is actually a business is filling out a Business Model Canvas, originally developed by Alexander Osterwalder. This tool helps you focus your idea and test its feasibility by answering questions about your value proposition, customers, activities and outcomes. It’s a living document, so you can adjust it as you learn.

You guessed it Ms Million, checking the feasibility of an idea will take time and research. We wrote a column about performing market research a few weeks back, and the practices of gathering information are just as important at the idea-stage as when you’re getting ready to launch.

We’ve shared some tools for determining if your idea is a good one, but don’t underestimate one simple way to get feedback on your idea – talk about it! Here are a few questions you should ask yourself and others as you turn one of your great ideas into a business:

  • What is the problem your idea solves?
  • How is your solution better than what’s currently on offer?
  • Can you clearly articulate the benefits of your product or service?
  • What else exists in the market? Has it been tried before? What’s worked and not worked?
  • How will you generate revenue?
  • Will people buy it? For how much? Is that enough?
  • What resources do you need to make it happen? Do you have them? Can you find them?
  • What feedback have you gotten from potential partners and customers?

This might seem daunting, but let’s return to the “I-did”. You are the person with the good idea, the persistence to pursue it and the tenacity to ask good questions. You may have a million ideas, but don’t get lots in the plenty. Start with one!

Entrepreneurially yours,

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs

Have a question for Prosper Women Entrepreneurs? Contact Silicon Prairie News, and your question may be featured in an upcoming story!

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs was created to address the entrepreneur gender gap in the St. Louis region. We are a group of business leaders, thinkers, doers, innovators and students who want to make sure that our community is well positioned in the new economy and, more specifically, that women entrepreneurs are a vital part of its future.

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs is comprised of two separate divisions: Prosper Institute, a non-profit organization focused on training and mentoring women in the entrepreneurial community, and Prosper Capital, a for-profit organization focused on increasing women entrepreneurs’ access to growth capital and the number of women investing in early stage capital markets.