Beyond Business Basics
Successful business people have a wealth of insider tips and insights that Hillsborough County can help you tap. Each month we ask local business experts to share their experiences and expertise on the entrepreneurship journey. This month we discuss finding and growing your big idea.
How do you know when you have a great idea for a business?
Most great ideas for a business start with addressing a specific problem or need in the marketplace. You can do all of the research, beta testing, and analysis in the world, but not until you have your first paying customer that then leads to more paying customers do you truly know if you have a great idea for your business. I started my first business in college, and it ended up being a short-term failure that led to lessons learned to build other successful businesses. Hundreds of friends in college told me an off-campus meal plan was a great idea and I believed it, too, until we went to market and only sold a few hundred meal plans, which wasn't enough volume to produce a profit. In theory, the idea was great, but the real market need wasn't there.
What are the major barriers preventing someone from turning their business into reality?
Capital, of course, is always a major barrier and the ability of the entrepreneur to go without income for a period of time. I always advise entrepreneurs that it's easier to launch a business when you are generally younger - before mortgages, kids, "white picket fences," larger fixed expenses, etc. My two most successful businesses were started at the ages of 24 and 33 respectively, and although I had more experience and wisdom at 33, the financial pressures in the beginning were much greater in comparison to being 24.
An often overlooked barrier is the pressure from family, friends, and colleagues. Entrepreneurs are in the minority compared to those who have corporate careers, so there can be plenty of skeptics for different reasons. You have to be willing to listen to the feedback but also be compelled to go at it alone. I remember getting laughed at by many people and mentors when I was launching my most recent business, AirHeads Trampoline Arena, back in 2010 before the industry was popular. Those same people who laughed called me with admiration when we had 400 customers packing the facility on a Saturday when they came to check it out with their kids. We grew to become the largest corporate-owned trampoline park business in the Southeast and had a successful exit last year. If we listened to the critics, we would have never launched the brand. We did our research, knew the need in the marketplace for a fit and fun experience, but ultimately we had to trust our intuition, experience and judgment to literally and figuratively "take the leap" in launching AirHeads.
- What advice would you give someone on how to make their business idea come to life?
To quote the spirit of Nike, "Just Do It." All businesses start with the first sale. You can spend a year perfecting a business plan or spend the same time on developing your product or service and going to the market to sell it. People always ask me for advice on raising capital and there is no better "capital raise" than from a customer. One of our companies in the Tampa Bay WaVE, Qualified Meetings, opened their business with a $100,000 contract. They had a specific problem they were solving and received the "startup capital" from a client. Can't beat that! Another company, TitleTap, started as a business where the founders had other jobs until they built the business up to enough sales and profits to support the two founders financially full time. My largest company in terms of topline sales, Home Discovery Real Estate, started on my business partner's kitchen counter selling mortgages. The business was launched with a $5,000 credit card and became a $2 million company before we received $5 million in funding for growth capital.
With all of the tools and resources online, you can bootstrap a business these days like never before. You can build a website for less than $20 a month vs. thousands of dollars up front, you can work from home or at a coworking space like we have at the Tampa Bay WaVE to save significant money on an office, you can hire freelance professionals from sites like Fiverr or Upwork, and can launch your product on global online marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy. It's never been a better time to be an entrepreneur in Tampa Bay!
Continue Your Journey with these No-cost Resources:
- Tampa Bay WaVE
- Entrepreneur Collaborative Center
- Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County
- 1 Million Cups Tampa
- Homebrew Hillsborough
- Dreamit UrbanTech
- HCPLC Business and Entrepreneur Resources
Our Expert Contributor
- Richard Heruska is an Entrepreneur in Residence for Tampa Bay WaVE, a "by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs" 501(c)(3) nonprofit helping entrepreneurs build, launch, and grow breakout tech businesses in Tampa Bay. Richard brings real-world experience as an entrepreneur who has founded six companies and successfully sold two companies. As an Entrepreneur in Residence, Richard serves as a sounding board and mentor for each business' unique goals and challenges and helps make introductions to potential strategic partners, clients, and mentors.
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