One thing I have learned the hard way in business is that implementing new ideas is usually much more difficult than conceiving the idea in the first place.
That's why I caution my aspiring entrepreneur clients against proclaiming to investors that they are a great "idea" person. The bridge from thinking and talking, to doing, is a long and difficult one for many to get over.
For example, I have a friend with a Ph.D. in Physics who talks passionately about starting a business producing nuclear powered batteries. I have tried to convince him the general idea alone does not make a business. His challenge is to focus on one market, consumer or commercial, with a specific design, cost, and price. Then, he'll need to patent it and create a plan to show opportunity, competition, and financial projections. Yes, there are a lot of bridges to cross.
In addition, creating a business requires leading and interacting with other people, including partners, investors, and customers. And you're not done yet.
Finally, implementation requires a commitment of real money and other resources that can't be written off so easily as an idea ahead of it's time. Yet there are clearly some positive steps I can recommend for getting you (and him) across those bridges to build a business that has a shot at success.
1. Find a co-founder who has been there and done that.
At least the first time around, it pays big dividends for an idea person to find a partner with the business skills you haven't tested yet. Don't assume you can outsource the implementation decisions.
You need someone you can trust and learn from every day, with equal "skin in the game."
For example, I often cite the relationship between Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, who grew Microsoft together. Bill was initially the idea person and technologist, while Steve had the business and marketing experience from Proctor & Gamble to close the business equation.
2. Create a written plan, with target milestones and metrics.
I have found the process of writing down your idea, with a plan for implementation, and reviewing that plan with a business advisor, will force you to learn and acknowledge the real requirements for implementation.
Target measurements allow you to assess your business progress.
I find the best business plans are not books, but may actually start as a one-page elevator pitch that succinctly encompasses your business goals, problems and solution, opportunity, competition, and business model. A full plan may be no more than 20 pages.
3. Take your time in moving from your idea to a business.
Like many aspiring entrepreneurs, you may feel impatient in rolling out your business. You may assume the hard work was finalizing the idea, and that if you build it, customers will come. The reality is that building a business always takes longer than you think, so don't quit your day job until revenue is flowing.
These days, even with the pervasive Internet and social media, it still takes time and money for your marketing and customer communication efforts to have an impact. Start creating your own personal brand through blogging, industry forums, and networking.
4. Build a strong team around you and learn from them.
Don't make the mistake of relying on interns and family members to do the work. Hire only qualified team members you can trust, and listen to their feedback.
Your good idea may have come from you, but a good business requires a team. You must also learn from your customers. That will allow you to adjust as you learn more, or the market changes.
Every startup founder I know, no matter how good their idea, has had to make one or more changes or pivots, as they adjust to the challenges of the real world. Be ready for it.
5. Expand your own learning and knowledge by helping others.
Once you have achieved some success as an idea person who has implemented a business, you can broaden your positive impact by mentoring and coaching other aspiring entrepreneurs, supporting worthy causes, writing a book, and speaking at leadership conferences.
For example, Bill Gates tells everyone that he has continued to learn about business from his philanthropic efforts, as well as funding more leading-edge innovations, including clean nuclear energy and global health breakthroughs.
Starting and leading a business is not rocket science, but it does require the confidence and leadership to continuously make decisions, work with other people, and the humility to recognize that continuous learning and change is required.