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Sanity Check - That Great Business Idea That Wasn't

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Today I had one of those disheartening moments in an entrepreneur's life.

Simpsons did it.

You think you have this great idea, bounce it off some friends and their feedback only fuels your excitement. So you buckle down and do some preliminary research. WOW. This opportunity looks great, why hasn't anyone else done it?

So, I figured out the industry term for my idea... and it wasn't new or novel in any significant way. Bummer.

It's easy to feel depressed about seeing your idea being taken. But being depressed sucks, what can you and I learn from the burning wreckage that was my(or your) idea?

1. Why didn't find I/you find this earlier?
It's understandable that if you come up with an idea that isn't in your area of expertise you may be unfamiliar with the terminology. The only real way to overcome this is doing your research and learning everything you can about the industry. Talk to experts, friends and anyone who will listen about the idea and see what they think. If the idea is good someone else is probably doing it/tried it. If you are meeting a real need and struggled to find it perhaps there is an opportunity.

2. How similar is what you found compared to your idea?
Time to do some wreckage analysis. Is the core idea identical? Is it similar? What makes their idea different from yours? Does theirs make more sense? Presumably, they have been doing this a lot longer than you and have figured out a lot of things. What can you learn from what they have done? What do you feel is still missing? Are any of your unique selling points still unique? Given their head start what would you do differently that they couldn't imitate?

3. Proof of Concept
Was it successful? Why or why not? Did the idea receive financing? How much? How many rounds? Funding and lots of it is an easy way to measure the success of the idea. It means that people believe in the idea and/or it's generating (or on track to generate) lots of money.

So what can we take away from all this?

In my case I learned my idea was nearly identical to an existing company that received 2-3 rounds of financing totaling over 30 million dollars. I had never heard of the industry or company but I felt like they stole my plan to the letter. The way it worked, the partnerships I believed made the most sense, virtually every critical aspect of implementation was what I imagined doing. Except they beat me to it.

However, that reassured me. I am not crazy. My idea was a 30 million dollar idea. I just was late to the party. Next time I will try and arrive earlier.

Have I given up on the idea? Not quite. I was careful to say their implementation was exactly as I pictured. However, I still couldn't find it easily (actually I stumbled on it by chance reading a completely unrelated article that referenced this industry - and light bulbs went off). So, despite all the money going into this business and its competitors (and there were some big ones) nobody I talked to had heard of any of them, the idea still seemed novel and my original searches for such a service came up empty handed.

That means there are two possibilities: marketing failure or lack of user interest/demand. Marketing can be improved, I feel quite confident that if I had one of these services setup that I could market it to profitability. However, if users simply don't want the service it's worthless as is. Can I make users want it or adapt it into their lifestyles that they would accept it? Sounds like a marketing problem...

Am I ready to go for it? Not yet, more research is needed in my case. However, consider your options, if you still believe in your idea the next step would be talking to your potential customers - is this a dud idea or a poorly marketed one?

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