“I just thought of this wonderful idea and I need to start a company to capitalize on it. What should I do next?” I am frequently asked this question. Most aspiring entrepreneurs assume that an exciting idea is the “trigger” to starting a company. As we’ve seen, the notion that great ideas make successful entrepreneurs is a myth. It is therefore incorrect and dangerous to assume that the answer to “when” is whenever you come up with a great idea.
Great ideas and the subsequent enthusiasm that comes with them are simply not enough to sustain someone through the arduous process of starting a company.
Ray Kroc never asked “when?” He was fifty-two-years-old when he decided to change his life. He was already an entrepreneur—he and a secretary constituted both employees of a company that sold milkshake blenders. His experience and career path lead him down a winding road that put him in the path of the McDonald brothers, who he convinced to allow him to license their popular restaurant all over the country. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has never heard of or been to a McDonalds. Had he simply had the idea to license the chain with little to no experience, contacts or expertise, success would have been elusive.
As a traveling blender salesman, he had the benefit of many years on the road studying different restaurants and how they operated. What places were popular? What kept them in business. Through these busy years of hard work, Ray built an arsenal of experience and expertise that would make a small hamburger joint into a worldwide household name.
Rather than waiting on a magical moment to initiate your great idea, spend the time you have now getting ready for the journey. Map out your plan. Get additional education. Gain industry-specific experience. Surround yourself with wise counsel. Have tangibles in your arsenal so you’ll be ready when the perfect opportunity comes along.
If you don’t have the stamina to put in the hard work, to do research and to map out a plan, then the trajectory of your “when,” will falter. We cannot put our faith in a “big break” that does not come with years of hard work and preparation.
While there are fly-by-night success stories sprinkled here and there, I’ve found that entrepreneurs who take a systematic, deliberate approach to considering their entrepreneurial opportunities do much better than those who just leap at them.
Deliberation isn’t about writing a business plan, but about carefully figuring out how you might get to where you want to go. Developing a “map” and reviewing it based on the inputs from the people you respect is the most cost-effective and success-enhancing way of assessing and minimizing risk.
And maybe, like Ray Kroc, you are unknowingly preparing for your golden opportunity and it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere. When the opportunity comes, and you have found that all your good and bad past experiences have lead you up to this point, won’t you be glad that you didn’t simply act on the first great idea that came along?
So, the real question therefore, is not when, but whether to be an entrepreneur.