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Is Your Big Idea Too Far Ahead of its Time?

March 15, 2012

From American Express OPEN Forum

 By Anita Campbell  of Small Business Trends

Original Post

I was talking with a friend about Pinterest, the hot social media site. Her brother-in-law came up with a similar idea a few Big ideayears ago, but he didn’t do anything with the concept except to play around with it. Of course, he’s sorry now.

Have you ever had an idea that you were convinced was a game changer? People often discourage you, saying that there’s no market for your concept or that it’s too far ahead of its time. Do you give up on your idea like my friend’s brother-in-law did and risk regretting it later? Or do you pursue the idea and regret spending time and money on something that is too far ahead of its time?

If you’re playing around with an idea that you’re not sure the market will support, here’s a way to approach the decision of whether to launch it.

Assess potential costs and profits

Do your market research to determine the level of customer interest, potential target markets and sales channels. Create financial projections, just as you would with any new product or service line.

The challenge is to get hard numbers for a concept that’s so far ahead of its time that there are no benchmarks for comparison yet. Find the most comparable products or services you can to base your estimates on. Talk to leaders in your industry. Use all your connections for introductions to the people you need to talk with. Share your idea as far as you’re comfortable, without giving away the farm, and get their insights and suggestions.

Determine launch costs and potential returns

If the profit potential of your initial idea is huge, but the investment required to develop it is just as big, don’t give up. Instead, consider enlisting a strategic partner. This might be a bigger company that’s a natural fit for the product or service you’re envisioning. Smaller companies that can each contribute a part of the work in exchange for a small piece of the idea might make good partners. Or, an angel investor with a background in your industry can offer not only financing, but strategic guidance as well.

If launching would cost more than the potential reward, you need to reconsider. But that doesn’t mean your idea is dead in the water. It simply requires a new approach.

Scale your idea back

Is there a moderate version that would cost less and bridge the gap between what currently exists and your ultimate vision? An idea that’s not completely ahead of its time can be much easier to sell. However, when a product or service introduces only an incremental change to the market, the profit potential is likely less dramatic. So, conduct the same level of market research and do the same financial projections you did for your initial concept.

If you introduce a scaled-back version of your initial product or service, make sure that you build in the ability to launch full-scale versions at a later date. Use your scaled-back launch to test the waters and find out if there’s enough interest in what you initially wanted to offer. If you gradually build up to launching your big idea, it won’t be so far ahead of its time.


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