"I have an idea."
My wife is sick of hearing that one. Not because my ideas aren't entertaining (they are), or because they don't solve real problems (they do), but because she knows I'll likely spend the next several days, weeks, or months talking about it.
Ideas are fun. And most entrepreneurs, like me, spend countless hours pursuing ideas before they ever make a single dollar.
In the early days of Groupon, I spent four months dividing up hypothetical equity in a spinoff idea that was sure to make me a gazillionaire.
Another time, I dedicated 200 unpaid hours to documenting procedures for a franchise you'll never hear of.
I've flown across the country for speculative meetings, paid designers and developers money I'll never get back, and made gorgeous business plans that live in a dark corner of my office.
At least I've failed enough for one great thing to happen: I'm now very efficient at failing.
So before you waste years of your life and thousands of dollars, here's how to do as little work as possible to get your idea up and running.
Build a basic brand.
A well-executed brand can cost thousands of dollars and take years to fully develop. But when you're first starting out, you don't need anything too extravagant. There are tons of sites that can help you create the basics for cheap--like a logo, business cards, letterhead, you name it.
Once you get up and running and start making a little bit of money, you can revisit building out a more comprehensive and thoughtful brand.
Create a website.
I once spent $18,000 and three months on a website design that never launched. I'm guessing if your idea is just getting up and running, dishing out $18,000 for a website probably isn't your top priority.
For a less expensive website that still looks impressive and unique, you can use Strikingly, Wix, or Squarespace. With easy to use templates, you'll be ready to debut your site and start taking pre-orders.
There is no better way for people to show interest in your project than to take out their credit cards. A few years ago, my brother and I decided to import organic coffee from Honduras. It was a crazy idea, but before we even sent an email to the coffee plantation, we started taking pre-orders.
If you want an easy way to take pre-orders, try Celery. You can build an easy order form and collect pre-sales. In just a couple of days, we took enough pre-orders to fund our entire first batch of coffee. Shopify or even Kickstarter can help you take pre-orders, too. No time wasted there.
Once your site is live and you're ready to take orders, it's time to get the word out. One of my favorite tools is BuzzSumo. With a quick search of any topic, you can instantly see where the most popular content is being shared on the web, and who the most influential people are on social media for that topic.
Anytime I launch a new idea, I do a little homework and try to connect with someone that can help me get the word out. Clarity.fm can help you connect with experts in your field, too. Why limit your exposure to just the people you already know?
Make a press kit.
Start by creating a simple document with your company name, contact information, logo, tagline, key features, and a few sentences about you and the business. If you have photos or headshots, include those too. Then, copy the public link and share it with the world.
So, tens of thousands of dollars and dozens of failed ideas later, I think I've figured it out. Don't stop chasing those exciting side projects. But, get them up and running as fast as you can and waste as little time as possible.
How long did it take you to earn your first dollar?