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Evaluating an Idea for Feasibility — The Launch

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Next, we will take a deeper look at how to take the idea you’ve been dreaming about and move it forward in the process of becoming a business. It’s important throughout this process to remain positive about the idea but, at the same time, try to be as objective as possible. You’ll have days where you refuse to think any further about the idea, and that’s OK. Take a break from it for a day if you need a mental break, but don’t let it fester for weeks, or you’ll just get frustrated. If you tend to procrastinate, try to lay out a schedule for yourself on next steps and keep it in your To Do’s on your phone or PC. Let’s take a look at a few of these next steps necessary to moving your idea forward.

Step 1: Managing Your Day Job and Your Dream

Earlier I mentioned it is important to consider your current job and company when evaluating an idea. I think it’s important to expound on this so that there is not any confusion on how to deal with this. Once you’ve decided that your idea has no merit or competitive issues with your existing company, take a good, hard look at whether you can launch this business on the side. Ask yourself if you have the time necessary to commit the extra hours it takes to prepare, launch and manage a new business.

I recommend laying out the key tasks you need to launch (we’ll cover these soon) and build a timeline with hours and dates. Will it take 100 hours over 10 weeks to get launched? Will it take 1,000 hours over 20 weeks? Can you spare 10 hours per week? 50? Be realistic and round up on hours (you’ll be incorrect no matter what you put down).

Once you move forward, do not let your idea get in the way of your day job. Manage your time effectively by doing as much work as you can in the mornings before work, during lunch, after work and on the weekend. Take a vacation day or two (not a sick day!) and use holidays (when you aren’t with your family) to get things done. Go in early to the office and leave early if you need to schedule a meeting or vice versa. Don’t lose your job over your idea.

Step 2: Finding the Skills You Need to Launch

The skills one needs to be successful at starting a business vary; from making coffee and copies to negotiating contracts to closing deals. If you are starting a tech company, additional skills will be necessary. A self-evaluation of what you can do and what you should do is necessary. Just because you can learn how to code doesn’t mean you should write the backend of enterprise-level software system if you’ve never done this before. The same can be true of technical founders. If you are a coder, a scientist, a doctor or another technically oriented professional, please don’t believe that the “business side” is something you can just pick up along the way. I’ll never forget watching engineers from a variety of backgrounds go insane trying to make a balance sheet balance in grad school. Accounting isn’t intuitive to engineers, so get help.

Let me also say that I’m not sure I’ve ever met an investor who would fund an idea without the necessary technical staff/expertise in place. Building software or Web-based products without “in-house” technical skills can be scary. Who designs the architecture, makes the decisions on language and knows what the costs should be?

Finding help is another story. Use technical networking groups such as to meet other potential founders. Get to know computer languages and programming skills you’ll need. Understand the difference between someone who can build an iPhone app’s user interface and a backend specialist for enterprise software solutions. Utilize the local tech networking community by attending events and asking for help or introductions. Everyone knows someone who has certain skills that you may need. There are at least two of these events happening every week, often two per day so you should never be for want of connecting opportunities. Go to the local universities for business help if you can’t find anyone. Graduate business students (especially part-time, evening and executive MBA students) have some experience and access to assistance. They can help with business plans, market analysis, competitive analysis, financial modeling and marketing plans.

Step 3: Evaluating and Utilizing Your Network

As you move forward in your planning and you begin evaluating potential customers, product iterations, Web development and business structure, don’t forget about the network you’ve built. If you’ve spent your entire career in an area or industry, you have more than likely built a great Rolodex of contacts who can assist you. Buy some old friends lunch and share your idea. Ask your network for introductions. Almost anyone will open up their personal network for an intro or two just to be able to say they “knew you before you were successful.” Using the personal relationships and brand you’ve built over the years may be the single-most successful thing you can do in launching your business. These people trust you, have faith in your abilities and may be willing to go out of their way to help you in ways that strangers would never consider doing.

Step 4: Putting your Family First

I would be in trouble if I didn’t mention how important it is to maintain your personal relationships throughout the entire process of starting a business. Unless you are a recluse living alone, the next few months to years will affect those relationships (my apologies to any hermits who may be reading this). Whether it’s your spouse, children, parents or friends, get them involved early. Include them in this process by getting their feedback (and perhaps taking it with a grain of salt!) and letting them be a part of each step. The misconception that you have to sacrifice family for success is just not true. Prioritizing success with family and friends is essential. Allow yourself to maximize time with these people when you are with them. I’ve known tens of men and women that have successful small and large businesses that never let family get in the way. Besides, what’s the point of being successful if you have no one to enjoy it with?

Step 5: Give Yourself Enough Rope to NOT Hang Yourself

I believe it’s important to start with the end in mind. Many investors and experts will tell you this (that’s where I heard it!). It is true, but maybe not how they meant it. Give yourself a drop date for all activities with your idea or business. Should you plan to fail from the beginning? Absolutely not! Should you minimize damage and know when to walk away? Unquestionably yes! Know your financial, market and product limitations. If all you can afford to spend is $10K to get started, and if the key milestones you need to hit to get more money cannot be done after that $10K, take an honest look at where you are and decide if you need to walk away. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing someone who has invested their savings and mortgaged their house on an idea but just cannot walk away. It doesn’t matter that the market has passed them by or their product is not financially feasible.

Fail fast! If you do the work upfront necessary to get the idea through the initial hurdles and milestones, keep going. If you cannot, and it’s apparent to others (and hopefully to you, if you’re being honest with yourself), stop wasting time. Sometimes early on, a pivot can occur. Use a pivot if you have the basic product/website/brand to alter your direction enough to hit another market or opportunity without starting over.

Step 6: Don’t Quit Your Day Job…Yet

Finally, please don’t quit your day job just yet. Isn’t that monthly paycheck worth working the extra hours for a few more months? As soon as you quit, it all goes away: health insurance, stock options and 401K. Make your job work for you as long as you can. Sure, investors want to see you 100 percent committed, but if you can get the company going on your own by working harder and smarter earlier, won’t they appreciate your efficiency? Don’t quit your day job…yet!

Jeremy Vickers

Jeremy Vickers is the executive director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where he leads a team focused on cross-campus startup activity and entrepreneurship curriculum. Prior to his arrival at UT Dallas, Jeremy was at the Dallas Regional Chamber from 2011 to 2015 as the vice president of innovation. He led strategy and program implementation to support building the North Texas innovation ecosystem. Read more articles

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