Where is your next big business idea going to hit? At a workshop, in your day job, or while shoveling chicken poo?
More importantly: once that million-dollar concept arrives in your brain, how much faith do you have that it’s actually a good idea?
Co-founder of volunteering platform Vollie, Matt Boyd, says the first time he and co-founder Tanya Dontas talked out loud about the idea of starting their business, they were standing in the muck of a chicken coop, volunteering at Edgar’s Mission.
They’d been thinking for some time about how challenging it was for willing volunteers to find roles, however, it was that moment that gave rise to the possibility they could be the ones to do something about it.
“Tanya is just standing there with a dustpan filled with poop and she said to me, ‘surely there’s another way of being able to give back and being able to share your skills, rather than shovelling poo’,” Boyd recounts.
The moment of inspiration may have been in a comical setting, but Boyd says it was actually the moment they set to work, trying to prove their idea of a volunteer matching platform “wrong”.
The Vollie story echoes that of other entrepreneurs, who tell SmartCompany there’s a fine art in transitioning your lightning bolt of inspiration into something that can actually happen.
So once you’ve been struck with a desire to do something new, how do you follow through?
Try to break your idea
Boyd advises other entrepreneurs that once you have a mental blueprint of a business, it’s time to try and prove why it won’t work.
“Spend months trying to prove your idea wrong. Really critique it as much as possible,” he says.
One of the key reasons that Vollie moved from a conversation into a business was that the founders proved to themselves over months that nobody else was doing anything similar in the Australian market.
Boyd says had he found someone else already operating a similar business, he would have joined them instead of starting a competitor.
“You want to develop your own legacy, but if someone out there is doing what you want to do, then you shouldn’t really create a company,” he advises.
Taking the time to research all the things that could possibly go wrong also prepares you to be agile when you get the news that a key part of your idea simply won’t work in reality.
For example, Boyd says he initially imagined the Vollie product to have a tonne of bells and whistles, but ultimately through research discovered these would not actually add anything to the core idea and purpose of the business.
“I was thinking it will blow people away and being really flashy … but functionality for functionality’s sake, or to impress people, is pointless,” he says.
You can spend years with that ideas notebook brainstorming new concepts, but sometimes the right idea and the right idea pop up with just a moment’s notice.
When, for example, Sarah Agboola and Yan Ting Choong met at a Melbourne University accelerator bootcamp two years ago, they didn’t know that their initial brainstorming sessions would turn into thriving “moncierge” business m-time.
Agboola was taking a gap year and went along to the session because it seemed like an interesting opportunity. Choong paired up with her and started discussing the idea of a “confinement nanny” business in Australia.
The duo workshopped the idea for a short period of time, refined it for the Australian market by packaging up a range of Australian household services like nannying and housecleaning, then posted one image to Instagram to do an initial market research test.
“We ended up just putting the idea up on Instagram asking, theoretically, if anyone would use the idea. We didn’t have a full idea or a product, all we had was a stock image,” Agboola says.
The post took off, meaning the pair were faced with a choice: spend months more thinking about the idea of launching, or just dive in?
The duo chose to dive in, using the bootcamp as a starting point for launching the business that would become m-Time, which now has $120,000 a month in recurring revenue.
Agboola may not have spent years planning the m-Time concept before launching it, but says the experience shows the importance of getting into action quickly once that initial idea is sparked.
“The one thing I would say is just test that idea as soon as possible.”
Cast the net wide
Many a business idea has been forged after noticing a big gap or challenge in your day job.
This was the case for the co-founder of advocacy management platform Advoc8, Nicole Buskiewicz, but her initial brainwave wasn’t enough to get a business off the ground on its own.
Through her work in the government relations team of a big corporate, Buskiewicz noticed her team communicated their progress more through chats in the back of Ubers and conversations in the kitchen than they did through formal documentation.
The idea of a management tool for this kind of work had been sparked, but she then had to front up to those in the sector and ask them whether it seemed like a good option to them too.
“I lined up as many meetings, calls and coffee dates with colleagues and industry counterparts as I could in order to validate my idea,” she tells SmartCompany.
The aim of these meetings was to establish whether Buskiewicz was the only one who had noticed the problem, or whether others were facing it too and might be keen to pay for a solution.
Opening yourself up to sharing your early stage idea may be intimidating, but by going to stakeholders you also get the benefit of ideas for features within your product.
“The overwhelming feedback was that government relations and advocacy professionals were using emails to share information and spreadsheets to manage their political contact lists,” Buskiewicz says.
The result? The Advoc8 product was able to focus on eliminating those pain points in a platform that brought “all this information together in the one place”, and now has a range of big-name clients including Australian lobby firm CapitalHill.