The long road from idea to revenue

(Warning: May not make a lot of sense, also, don’t take personal)

First things first: idea is nothing! it is simply that thing we all have in our heads, sometimes even have on paper and that we hope it/they will somehow turn us into multi-millionaires and build us an empire.

If ideas were really a thing, you’d be a millionaire many times over, already. You get it now don’t you 🙂

So you are not special in any way because you carry one or several ideas in your head – everybody in that crowded bus with you do as well.

Second thing, next: Execution is not everything. But it is a lot of things. Luck/good fortune, timing (another name for luck), sheer market readiness/maturity (another name for luck), network of supporters (not really another name for luck, but…) also play a part – a huge part. You get this? If not, let’s look at examples: MySpace? Facebook? One failed the other did not, you think only execution made the difference? Nah! Execution played a role – a huge role. But a few other things acted in favour of Facebook. Market readiness/maturity played a part, product placement (part of strategy execution) played a role. Network effect. LUCK. Funding from strategic partners (part strategy execution, part LUCK – as strategic partners may have their hands full and elect not to take Facebook on). Still unconvinced? Stop right here and go and make better use of your time (caught the joke?)

Customer is king. Yes – in so far as they are paying and are getting what they are paying for. If they stop paying, they become commoners – but still treat them with respect as commoners often have some shots at becoming king.

Business is not the same as charity except off-course both have ‘goals’ they aim to achieve and nothing more in similar. Business goal is measured in revenue (and impact etc. for the conscious) and charities’ goals are  measured strictly in impact. In a manner of speaking, businesses are revenue machines – they consume human passion, time, energy, intellect (health and relationships in some cases), processes these in some magical black box and converts these into revenue or a lack there of.

Revenue – is what you get from those people who use your product or service (or who think they do) and is ultimately why you are in business.

Profit – is what you retain after paying all your bills for creating the ‘thing’ you made people pay for. And is super ultimately the reason you are in business – except for charities, who are in business strictly for the impact they make (e.g. keep kids in school, stop teenage pregnancies, put potable water in homes, keep governments accountable etc.)

Now that we are past meeting each other, let’s talk about the road.

The road is long and twisted. And is not for the fainthearted. The road often requires some guts to thread and a lot of intuition guided navigation as there are mostly no GPS’ (all the ones provided by B schools and even in this rant will at best fail you on their own without your own experience and intuition based refinements). The road requires a lot of grit, a lot  of rising up, every morning even in the face of doubts (if you are also doubting, that may be a good indication the whole venture is in trouble).

However, getting from idea to revenue will benefit from at least the following in some order:

  1. Hard work – sweat, blood, time, resources, staying awake at odd times, always showing up, always being present, always packaging and shipping…add yours to the list
  2. Document the idea – no, not necessarily writing down the idea on a napkin, but being able to clearly describe the idea to your potential partners in crime – early stage investors, pre-revenue staff, family and friends and all others from whom you will be taking from to add to the venture in the hope of your breakthrough
  3. Build a prototype (nick name for getting your act together and getting to work) – you need something other than a story to convince potential supporters your idea will work
  4. Test and refine the prototype – here is where things gets tricky. But still try it. Ask your users to pay for what they are getting from the prototype. Your prototype does not really end with the models of the product or the model of your financials (at the funerals of businesses, spreadsheet models are often well represented), but with actual usable products in some form or the other – it is not compulsory the model is an exact replica of the final product, but it must be illustrative enough and must be more than mere words
  5. Look for money and people to scale your value add (to add more users, or capabilities to serve more users), value generated (services to customers, their willingness to pay and actual action to pay for the services) and value retained (an optimised machine that does not spend everything it makes in other to make it, but which makes sure you retain some of the money that passes through the value chain you have created).

For the budding entrepreneur, please note:

  1. Passion alone is not enough. If anything, passion will get you in trouble at the end of the runway if you don’t take flight. I have exited arrangements that relied only on the founders’ passion and are devoid of any real or actionable plans for getting product to market besides an arcane believe that somehow the business win a lottery paid out in customers and revenue one day.
  2. Destiny is subject to definition. And in any case it is not a constant, but a variable into which you can store any value and that you can increment in any direction by optimising your revenue generating machine.

Phew… did I just write this?

Images: Screenshot from Bill Gross’ 2015 TEDTalk



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