BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Welcome to the first of many columns on small businesses, startups included. By way of introduction, I am what most would call a serial entrepreneur, dating from back when my dad and I opened a video rental store on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama. It's kind of a funny story, told by my family for years and always with the same punch line: My dad blames me for what eventually became our favorite vice -- creating a business!
On May 25, 1977, some readers will remember that this little sci-fi movie called Star Wars hit theaters. My Pop and I were in line to see it. Within a few months after it left theaters, we had a videotape copy of the film. Pirating films by videotaping in the theater was not really possible back then, so this home version was an actual cut of the film. I watched that movie every day for 178 days straight. At 7 years old, this was my daily existence when Mom was not shooing me out of the house. By the end, I knew every word and character movement, which was a good thing too, because by then, the VCR had chewed up the video so bad that all you could see was static. The audio was, well, just about inaudible.
What I did not know at the time was that around day 30 of this binge viewing, my dad had decided, first, that his son was a bit weird, and secondly, that video rentals were going to be a great business one day. It would be another five years before there were enough films on video and enough families with VCRs to support a business. By then I was 12, and no less fond of video, when Pop came to me with his proposition. He recognized I was a subject matter expert in the field -- my lack of business experience notwithstanding -- and therefore, worth consulting. With more research, including location research, and armed with a fledgling inventory of videos and 10 rental VCRs, we soon launched videos-to-go -- our first small business. Fast-forward four years, we sold Video Plus to Showtime Video, which later became, you guessed it, Blockbuster. The end result was that my family made just enough money to start up the next idea.
Prime time for serial entrepreneurs
The moral to this story, readers, is that a good business idea can become anything from a small family enterprise to an enterprise with millions of dollars in revenue. And never has that been more true than today.
Historically, the limiting factors for getting a business off the ground were money and reach. In today's world, those factors are minimized -- if not rendered entirely moot -- by having easy access to social media and its vast networks of people connected through Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and other platforms. The networks not only serve as a potential customer base numbering in the hundreds of millions, but also as a prospective funding source. Add in platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo for crowdfunding and even the venture capitalist route for obtaining funding is not as important as it was just a few years ago.
In the 30-plus years since Video Plus, I have started or been involved in more than 20 startups and small businesses. Some of them have grown out of my own ideas, while with others I have served as a consultant or coach to folks trying to make it big. I've had successes -- profiled in columns to come -- but, more important, I have experienced failure. Over the years, I've come to understand that we learn nothing from not trying: We learn something by succeeding and learn the most by failing.
This column will provide you with a different topic each month, with plenty of personal examples of lessons learned. You will get real-world direction and advice on how to take an idea from dinner table discussion to market.
To begin, let me provide a Day 1 checklist:
1. Document your idea. In no more than 10 bullets points or a few paragraphs, describe your idea to a degree where you could hand it to someone and, without a word spoken from you, this person could get the basics of your concept. You will probably generate 30-plus bullets and five or more pages of ideas to start, but part of this exercise is to get to the famous "elevator pitch." Remember, no one is going to grasp your idea as quickly or as easily as you. And initially, no one is going to have your passion for the idea. You must boil your idea down to just the basics.
2. Inventory your list of needs to succeed. This list will change dramatically over time. Include the skill sets needed and the kinds of people who possess such abilities. You must also estimate how much money you believe you will need to make a prototype or some representation of your idea. If you are reasonably confident that you can find ways to fulfill this list of needs, then move on to the next step.
3. Perform a sanity check. Are you serious about doing this idea? If so, stay-tuned for dozens of additional checklist items in future articles.
We've been led to believe that it takes a rare breed to start a business. And it is certainly true that lots of people have ideas, but comparatively few are brave (or crazy) enough to take the risk required to turn those ideas into a business. And, yes, as I can attest from my 178-days of watching Star Wars, it helps to have passion and subject-matter expertise. But, it is also true that the barriers to success are lower perhaps than they have been before. Go crazy!
About the author:
When he's not starting new businesses, Bryan Barringer is an independent enterprise mobility consultant and speaker, specializing in mobility, user adoption, UX/UI design, customer acquisition, product design/management and strategy and business development. Most recently at FedEx, he was in charge of evaluating mobile solutions for operations and sales professionals and leading FedEx Services' Office of Mobility and Collaboration.
Read more advice from Bryan Barringer:
Fed Ex uses gamification to boost enterprise collaboration
Stave off mobile chaos with a good governance plan
The importance of measuring mobile app performance