Advance your business idea for the price of a latte

My colleagues at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Prof. Victor Bennett and Prof. Aaron Chatterji, surveyed over 30,409 individuals in the US and found that less than 20% of individuals who consider launching a business speak to someone they do not already know about their business idea.* In fact, fewer than half of the respondents who considered starting a business reported that they had taken even the lowest cost steps of searching the internet for potential competitor or speaking with a friend about their idea. As an entrepreneurship educator, these findings surprised me. I want to see all people, not just students at prestigious schools or individuals living in entrepreneurial hubs, pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams. So, for those of you that may be sitting on the next big idea here are a few initial steps you can take to bring your idea to life:

Step 1: Do a quick internet search of the problem to see how others may be addressing it. Is your solution novel or are others addressing the problem? If you do find an existing solution, this does not mean you should immediately give up. Ask yourself how your idea is different. Does it meet the user need in a deeper and more meaningful way? Does it perform a different job for the user, like providing a more convenient format? Ask why you didn’t already know about the existing solution. Are they not meeting the user’s true need? Have they not formed the right partnerships to reach their users? Are they not adequately marketing the solution? If you think you can do it better, then move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Talk to a friend or family member about your idea. I add this step with a strong caveat, your friends and family want you to feel good about your idea and are likely to give you sugar-coated feedback, so take their input with a grain of salt. Don’t frame your conversation as “I have this business idea, what do you think?” but instead focus on the problem. For example, ask questions like “Tell me about the last time X happened to you/you tried to do X?” Follow up with questions like “What was frustrating/enjoyable about that experience?” Once you’ve talked about the problem, ask them if they know anyone else that has experienced the same problem and if you could talk to them too.

Step 3: Talk to a stranger who has substantive expertise in the industry or around the problem. For the cost of buying someone a latte, a beer, or a cup of tea, you can expand your understanding of the problem and your network, both of which will come in handy if you decide to move forward with your idea. Don’t be afraid to cold call or cold email someone and ask for their insight; everyone loves to be seen as an expert so be sure to play to their ego (in an authentic way) when you reach out. For the price of a coffee you are likely to gain valuable insight about your idea. Worst case, you’ve made a new connection.

Note: My post next week will provide tips and tricks for connecting with industry experts, so follow my channel to make sure you don’t miss the fresh content.

*For a deep dive into the research methodology and findings, check out my colleagues’ working paper here.

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I teach innovation & entrepreneurship at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Reformed chemist. I believe in the power of science to change the world.

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Jamie N. Jones, PhD

Jamie N. Jones, PhD

I teach innovation & entrepreneurship at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Reformed chemist. I believe in the power of science to change the world.

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