3 Secrets for Turning a Little Idea into a Big Time Business

Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series.For June, Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravers, authors of the just released book, Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Techoffer a four-week course in professional acumen, designed to serve you whether you’re a tech founder, an artist, or anything in between. For the second installment,Cabot offers a protagonist’s approach to figuring out what business ventures are actually worth pursuing.

How many times have you been jogging on the treadmill, driving to work, or drifting off to sleep when a brilliant idea hits you? The inspiration pops into your head, you scramble to scribble it down or type it into your phone only to let it fade away. Sometimes, those flashes of genius keep popping into your mind and you realize there might really be something there. So how does that flicker turn into a real business? In our research for our book, Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech, we spoke with hundreds of innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors and discovered three universal steps that took initial ideas jotted on a scrap of paper to the big time.

#1: Know What You Don’t Know

The most successful entrepreneurs we met hustled to find experts who could fill their own knowledge gaps on everything from supply chains to hiring to marketing. Persistence and consistency in approaching potential advisers worked well for Caren Maio, CEO and co-founder of the online real estate platform Nestio. Every time she was introduced to someone who she thought could help her learn the ropes, she would start to act as if they already worked together.

“I would fake it until you make it. I would follow up with Joanne [Wilson, the prolific angel investor] constantly with updates: ‘Here are the things that I need help [with]. Here are some key updates with the business.’ I would just continuously update her.” Eventually, Wilson would go on to invest in Nestio and now sits on the company’s board of directors.

EVERY TIME SHE WAS INTRODUCED TO SOMEONE WHO SHE THOUGHT COULD HELP HER LEARN THE ROPES, SHE WOULD START TO ACT AS IF THEY ALREADY WORKED TOGETHER.

Before she started Backstage Capital, the fund that invests in startups led by women, LGBTQ founders, and entrepreneurs of color, Arlan Hamilton spent a year devouring every blog and book she could to learn about the insular world of venture capital. Then she started cold emailing some of the boldface names of Silicon Valley for guidance.

“I said, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing. I don’t know anything about that world. I’m learning. What’s your advice here?” Many of them wrote back and offered to mentor her and a few, including famed venture capitalist Marc Andreesen, eventually invested in her fund.

#2: Test the Market and Keep Testing

It’s one thing to have a bright idea in your head and quite another to prove that customers will pay for it. Adda Birnir, founder and CEO of Skillcrush, the online coding boot camp aimed at women had a gut feeling in 2010 that she could entice entry level and mid-career professionals to learn computer programming if she hit them with the right messaging. But she didn’t know for sure how the unapologetic feminist tone of Skillcrush would fly until she started asking potential customers and listening to feedback from thousands of students who eventually enrolled in Skillcrush classes. It’s a process she continues today. “I think everything smart that I have done in my business has come from talking to users obsessively,” says Birnir, who advises aspiring entrepreneurs to “build into the DNA of your company a process for validating assumptions.”

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