Test The Waters

Ready to roll with your great idea? Don't make the leap 'til you know what you're getting into.

In the middle of the night, you realize you have a million-dollar idea and you can't wait to get to the market to cash in. Nothing can stop you, so you run out and get a patent, borrow money, start production and then worry about how you're going to sell your product.

Is that the right way to get started? Only if you have lots of money to correct your mistakes. The smart approach is to hold up for a while and do some research to be sure you have a product that can make money.

Kazi Ahmed of Beaverton, Oregon, did just that. In 1993, he came up with a new product--software for monitoring and managing diabetes patients' blood sugar levels--but before rushing to market, he put in many hours of research. If Ahmed had just gone with his initial gut feelings, he would have had many problems. But the research he did not only kept him from making a big mistake, it also helped him to develop his business, NuMedics, which produced its first $1 million in sales in 1999 and is poised for rapid growth.

Ahmed, 43, discovered he had diabetes when he was 36 years old. As he learned about the disease, he felt uneasy about his total reliance on his doctor's advice. He wanted to know more about his condition and treatment options but couldn't find any diabetes management systems on the market. So, using his experience as a programmer, Ahmed developed software to help him monitor the impact of certain foods and exercise programs on his blood sugar levels. His goal was to feel in control of his eating and exercise regimen, while keeping his blood sugar at safe levels.

Convinced that other diabetics would be equally interested in such a monitoring system, Ahmed further perfected software that could download blood sugar readings from readily available analyzers, then detail the effects various meals and activities had on them. He talked to his doctor, who thought the idea was terrific--not only for diabetes sufferers, but for their doctors as well. Doctors had a compelling need for a similar product, he said, that they could use as a management tool to help patients remember and implement their nutrition and treatment regimen.

Ahmed continued his research by spending several months at the library, learning everything he could about diabetes, its treatment and the overall market size for his product. By the time he was done with his library research, Ahmed could comfortably converse with medical professionals about diabetes patients--and his product idea.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and the author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons). Send him your invention questions at dondebelak@uswest.net

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Test The Waters.

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