A Great Business Idea or a Silly Dream?

America is a land of entrepreneurs which glorifies those who can build an idea into hugely profitable ventures. However, for every business success story, there are many failures which don’t make it to the papers. The fact that you consider your concepts unique and valuable doesn’t matter if many willing consumers don’t agree with you! It’s a lot harder to come up with a great idea than many aspiring inventors imagine, and if a product or service is beneficial, often it’s already in the marketplace. Furthermore, the best idea is useless if there isn’t a qualified team energetically working to produce and sell it. Bottom line: there’s a considerable distance from novel concept to best-selling execution.

Whose Opinion Counts?

In his book, serial entrepreneur Howard Jonas relates an early venture that blew up in his face. As teenagers, Howard and a friend poured all their savings into a business offering self-guided tours of Manhattan. Using newly invented portable tape recorders (remember those?), the confident entrepreneurs were sure that thousands of tourists would fork over a few bucks to learn about the landmarks around them. Unfortunately, despite a strategic location near the Empire State Building, they couldn’t get even one customer! These driven and ingenious kids learned a costly business lesson that day: only the customers’ opinion matters. With this in mind, before you quit your job, you’d better make sure that potential buyers like your proposed offerings as much as you do.

Who’s the Competition?

Should you come up with something fascinating to customers, there’s a good chance that it already exists in the marketplace. People occasionally pitch app development ideas to me, and nine times out 10, a quick search reveals similar apps with thousands or even millions of loyal users. Going up against these incumbents is almost certainly a waste of time and money. Think about it: How often do you choose an app or software that is sixth most popular in its category? Despite this, a frum company recently burned through tens of millions of dollars trying to catch up to much more dominant video-sharing apps before finally going bankrupt. Unless you have a popular and patentable idea, you’d better be prepared to face fierce competition.

It’s the Execution That Matters Most

The stories of great inventions and companies are more about excellent execution than novel ideas. Twenty years back, Google wasn’t the only search engine, nor was Amazon the only original online seller, or Apple’s iPod the first MP3 player. The genius of those companies was taking existing ideas and improving on them, assembling the right people, funding and marketing to refine the product and make it huge.

Learn From Bell

Consider the groundbreaking invention of the telephone. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for that revolutionary technology. But, according to the Library of Congress, scientist Antonio Meucci began the patenting process five years earlier and ran out of money before he could get it over the finish line. Another contender to fame and fortune, Elisha Gray, filed for a patent for the telephone the very same day as Bell! Because Gray’s legal team got to the agency later, the patent office granted Bell the sole invention rights, highlighting the importance of execution along with product creativity. You need to have a detailed plan for developing your concepts and getting in front of eager customers, or you are wasting your time, and you’d better hold onto your current job.

One Percent Idea, 99 Percent Sweat and Mazal

Entrepreneurship is somewhat of a national obsession, as can be seen from the enormous popularity of various business books, magazines, and programs. The frum world has its own versions of these “tanks” and self-help guides, strengthening the sense that many regular “Chaims” are quickly building successful companies and selling valuable inventions.

These sanitized versions of entrepreneurship should be taken with many grains of salt. It generally takes  years of hard work and a lot of money and risk to build something of significant value; the majority of successful businesses are “overnight successes 20 years in the making.” For the most part, people should consider the pretty presentations of simplified success stories as entertainment rather than education. Dreaming of potential riches is a fun pastime, but parnassah requires sweat (b’zei’as apecha) and mazal. If getting rich was easy, we’d all have done it already.

Want to dig deeper?

Try these related articles

Dream or Nightmare: The Realities of Opening a New Business

Entrepreneurship: Do You Have What It takes?

Patents Plus: Protecting Today’s Goldmines

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