From the March 2008 issue of Startups

Ideas are the currency of an entrepreneurial mind. To determine whether your ideas are hundred dollar bills or (gasp) pennies, you'll need a solid system to evaluate their quality and soundness. Veteran inventor Barbara Carey came up with a formula to help startup entrepreneurs do just that in her book, The Carey Formula: Your Ideas Are Worth Millions. The inventor of Hairagami, the $40 million-grossing hair accessory phenomenon, says her formula is meant to help inventors market relatively simple ideas. "You want a simple idea," she says, "and you want to make sure it's something people want."

Your first step should be in-depth research and "Me-search"--since finances are tight during startup, you must be your first research subject. Check out what's available now and ask yourself how you can improve on it. Can you combine two products to make something new? Then, take it further, says Carey. Ask, Is this an idea that people want to buy? Who are your customers and retailers, and what are your distribution channels? What are your key messages? What should your packaging look like? Do informal surveys with everyone you know, asking these important questions. "What makes the cup runneth over in terms of value for the customer?" asks Carey. "Remove yourself from the emotional part of it. You want their true opinion." If they say your product needs tweaking, then it's back to the drawing board.

The good news is that as you perfect your idea and its unique selling points and mass market appeal, you'll create a marketing plan that makes it easier for retailers to sell your product. The bottom line, says Carey, is that "you've got to fall in love with your business plan, not your idea."