What Comes “After” the Big Idea

What do you do when you have a “big idea” but don’t really know how to proceed? Who do you share it with, how do you protect it, and where do you get the money to start?

While the idea may feel like the hardest part of the success equation, I hate to burst your bubble. The big idea is the easy part, in fact, it’s the easiest part. The low hanging fruit.

How many times have you said, or have any of us said, “Man, I wish I had thought of that!” But you know, what? Someone else did think of that, and not only that, they figured out how to make a prototype, how to get the money, how to manufacture it, how to legally protect it, how to distribute it, how to find partners, and probably, how to add more products to the line.

A great idea? They are a dime a dozen.

That’s why Thomas Edison famously said that genius is “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Most people don’t get past the inspiration part.

Just a few days ago, I was with my sweet Goldendoodle Rosie at the park. I was using a doggie toy called the Chucker™, tossing the ball, and she was having a ball (groan, I know!), chasing and retrieving it. I then looked around and every owner at the park had one of these Chuckers in their hand too. Now that’s a big idea!

Wish I had thought of it.

But even if I had, the odds are against me that I would have ended up hitting the same homerun that the actual inventor of the chucker did. Would I really leave my new startup (this site), writing a new book, and my blogs and speaking gigs to devote myself wholly to the creation of the Chucker had I thought of it? Would I have been so enthralled that I would have found the money to pursue it, come hell or high water? Would I have spent hours and hours learning about the pet industry?

I doubt it.

Look, I don’t want to sound like Debbie Downer, but it is important to know that the idea is the easy stuff. That’s why, legally, you can’t protect an idea. You can’t copyright, trademark, or patent it. Even the U.S. government knows that you have to do more than come up with a great idea to become a millionaire.

The first step then, the beginning of the perspiration part, is to reduce that idea to something tangible; that is something that you can actually protect. A prototype can be patented. Even a provisional patent (“patent pending”), which is very affordable and lasts a year, gives you something to work with.

Other initial steps to take would be:

  • Getting a non-disclosure agreement. An NDA gives you some peace of mind and allows you to share your idea with others (though the odds of someone actually stealing it are quite low). This then helps you
  • Conduct market research: Do other people think it is great too? Is there really a need for it? Market research will tell you.
  • Get a prototype: These days, a lot of folks are making prototypes using 3-D printing. Check it out.
  • Get some teammates: You need to find people as passionate as you, especially people willing to invest some money.
  • Prove the concept: Can you sell it? Is there really a market?

This is just the start. So what I tell anyone who has a big idea – whether it is a better mousetrap or a cool website or a new business – is that I hope you fall in love and fall hard. It is that love that will see you through the tough times and give you the reason for giving it that full 99%, even when you are exhausted and only 63% of the way there.


Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is a senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible.

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