Ready To Launch

Why Is It so Difficult to Turn an Idea Into a Business? Your Questions Answered.

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This story appears in the October 2014 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Ask Scott D. Anthony, author of The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas Into the Market, and he'll tell you that the heady early days--when an innovation moves from idea to market--are the toughest time for any startup. As a managing partner in the Singapore office of Innosight, a strategy and innovation consulting firm, Anthony knows of what he speaks. His book delves into hard-won lessons from startups and global giants alike. He shared with us some of the hidden traps that snare entrepreneurs.

Why is the first mile the hardest?

The phrase "the first mile" is based on my observation that there are a lot of possibilities for failure the moment you go from a business plan to a reality. I wrote this book because there has been a lot written about the overall process of producing a deliverable, scalable model but not as much about zeroing in on that first step to launching.

Be prepared to examine things from all angles. --Scott D. Anthony, Innosight

What are the most common pitfalls for startups?

One extreme is something called "paralysis by analysis," where the business exists only in someone's head. They're trying to make the business plan perfect and remove all risk before taking the first step. The other extreme is "doing without thinking," where you put something out into the market to see what happens. You can waste a lot of time and money learning things the world has already discovered.

Why do so many venture-backed startups fail to hit their financial milestones?

In a startup situation, you're operating in extreme uncertainty, and the reason people don't hit their numbers is that those numbers are works of fiction. You need to separate what's fact and fiction about your numbers and course-correct based on what you learn. The mistake many entrepreneurs make is that they see their business plan as etched in stone. And it rarely is.

Is it wrong to think that your concept is the "perfect idea" that will disrupt the market or change the world?

People have stars-in-their-eyes moments, when they think they're going to do something that has never been done before. But there's often a good reason it has never been tried before. There might be a big competitor, a technology that can't support it, a regulatory barrier, or customers don't care about it.
Always ask yourself: Why haven't smart people started this sort of company already? Then, be prepared to accept the reasons why.

What if things aren't working out?

Find someone to talk to, preferably someone outside your field. It's easy to fall in love with your concept, but a trusted advisor can help you look at things with a critical eye. And, no matter how much you love your concept, be prepared to examine things from all angles. That's what makes someone a capable entrepreneur.

Edition: December 2016

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