By Miles Burke

Great Ideas—without the Risk!

By Miles Burke

I’ve written before about how we can end up getting so caught up in our great new idea, that we spend so long getting it just right, before we find out nobody wants it. This could apply to services, or a physical products.

I learnt this through my own hard experiences – I’ve been guilty of taking so long to develop and release an idea, that I was either too late, or the idea sounded great, yet nobody actually wants or needs it.

It could be the next best thing, but unless you have a market, it’ll only be the next big thing for you alone. Big companies know this, so they invest hundreds of thousands into market research before coming out with that new flavored cola drink or the improved service offering.


Unless you are very lucky, you don’t have that option, and to be honest, the way the world is evolving, perhaps it’s better to think small anyway. A colleague of mine years ago gave me some great advice; she suggested selling it to a few clients and then actually go to the stage of creating it. This seems like a scary move, but it is a far safer one.

Here’s my take on that advice – if you’ve got that next big thing idea, perhaps you should consider a crowd funding approach first? I loved the idea of sites like Kickstarter when they first appeared on the scene a while back. However I always thought of them really as a very small marketplace.

That’s until I watched the Pebble watch explosion. If you’ve not heard about it, you’ll want to. This company comes up with a great idea for a watch that interacts with your smartphone. It turns out to be one very exciting bit of wrist appliance. They believe they have the model right, they think it’ll do well, but where to get that $400,000 they need to make it a reality?

So, they turn to Kickstarter. They list the project, put high hopes they can raise four hundred thousand dollars (and this has to be spelt out – that is a LOT of money to anyone) and sit back to see if anyone really would pay $100 for a product like this.

Turns out, a lot of people would. In fact, 68,929 people are so enthusiastic about it, they pre-order over ten million dollars worth of them. That’s right; I’ll say it again in figures for you; $10,000,000.

Now they can start producing them, comfortable in the knowledge their first 68,000 customers are already reaching into their pockets.

OK, so it’s not quite as easy as coming up with an idea, listing it on a site like Kick Starter, and sitting back, however it’s not nearly as hard as it would have been without sites like Kick Starter.

Maybe you don’t have a physical product you wish to sell, yet you have a service you want to invest time and energy in, but don’t want to take the risk in doing all the work to find out that nobody actually wants it (like I have done).

Let’s learn from the Pebble watch lesson. Maybe instead of spending the next six months gearing up to offer a service or product that you hope your clients want, perhaps you could ask your existing customers instead.

One great way to do this (and once again, I’ve found out by trying this) is to actually approach a number of the ones you believe are most likely to purchase this service, and ask them if they would help you shape this service, and in exchange, you’ll give them a hefty discount for a period. Consider it your own consumer advice panel.

You can lean on their thoughts as prospective customers to find out what they are willing to pay, what they want it to do, and how they see you being able to market it. In fact, if you get them involve enough; they will help market it for you too.

This approach is likely not to make you ten million dollars in a month, but it will give you the confidence to know if it is worth your time and efforts to develop this new service or product or put it in the ‘great ideas that probably wont end up being profitable’ basket.

Give it a go, see how it works, and if you do find a product or service idea that raises ten million dollars in a month, don’t forget where you got that inspiration from!

  • cmb

    Thanks, that’s exactly what I did a month ago. Had an idea bubbling under for a while, approached three of my clients (whom I thought it would help their business, i.e. be potential purchasers) and offered it to them for free, as guinea pigs. of course, easier to pitch as free than as a discount, but it’s the feedback I’m going to find useful. They all loved it. Now I have to deliver;-)

  • Davis

    I think it’s worth mentioning that there is a whole product/service development movement with this concept at it’s core: Lean Startup (where startup doesn’t have to be a hot tech company from Silicon Valley). See Eric Ries’ site: http://theleanstartup.com/ and his book by the same name. Ash Maurya has refined Ries’ idea and put a practical spin on Lean Startup with his book “Running Lean.” His site is really a lab for his product experience and findings: http://www.ashmaurya.com/

  • Simple advice, and simple is great. Thanks! I’ll be taking that approach, approaching a group of potential customers.

  • Tim

    Thanks a trillion for sharing this. I’m blessed.

  • Quinreisen

    Thank you for the advice. Now I’ll admit I’m no expert by any means on services like Kickstarter so I have some basic questions. My main concern is whether or not you idea is protected in any form. I haven’t read through any of the fine print but I’m worried that once someone starts a kickstart campaign that it could be stolen by a company that has the funds to fulfill it. Not that my idea’s are worth stealing or anything. HA!

    If it’s not protected what would you suggest would be the correct course of action to take? Copyrights and patents for the hardgood or process? Any advice would be appreciated.

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