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First, You Dream

The Product Genesis

The idea for my first product--the TopsyTail hairstyling tool--came to me while I was at the movies with my mom. Inspired and excited by the thought of creating something new and original, I spent the next 24 hours flipping and twisting my hair and creating prototypes.

While developing my idea, I continued working as a marketing representative for IBM. But I had hit the glass ceiling--and I was not nearly as close to the top as I wanted to be. If I wanted more money and a more fulfilling life, I needed to take control and do it on my own.

I devoted my evenings and weekends to my idea. Focusing my marketing efforts on mail order, I was soon able to bring in an additional $2,000 to $3,000 a month. This side business gave me the satisfaction and self-worth I had been missing at IBM.

I never expected to hit the proverbial jackpot with my invention. Did I dare to dream the TopsyTail would make me millions? Sure. But it started as a secondary income. Even though I was consumed with excitement, I didn't lose my head. I stayed in control of my life. And even as my idea grew to the point where sales surpassed $100 million, I always tried to keep decisions as simple as possible.

When people ask me (and they often do) what are the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make in the inventing process, I tell them:

1. They quit their day job and lose cash flow.

2. They take on the burden of employees.

3. They increase costs by renting office space.

4. They don't do as much as they can themselves.

The first three points are fairly straightforward, but I want to elaborate on the fourth. You need to be the expert on your idea. You can't afford to delegate tasks to others. No matter how successful you are now, you must take control of each part of the product development process yourself. If that means dragging mail bags down to the bulk mail distribution center in a suit during your workday, do it. You must be in complete control of your idea to make it successful.

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This article was originally published in the January 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: First, You Dream.

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