When I left my last job at Logica, it was a tough decision to make as I had to survive without income in order to achieve my dream of setting up a successful startup. But that’s what 88% of the entrepreneurs do. My parents kindly invested in the new business.
In 1995 – two years after the first web browser was released, I spent all my money on a high-speed internet connection (only 64K then) and headed out to research what business would benefit from the Internet. I’d been using the Internet since the 1987 when I did a research trip to the USA with my University. The Internet was a great solution but what was the problem?
I then tried my hands into real estate business but turned out that it was challenging as agents kept all their prices hidden and only revealed them to clients who walked in the door. The next on my list was to get into travel accommodation. After testing the market for a while I realized that people were taking a punt. I could foresee an income of around 1,000 GBP per year, but little prospect of any increase soon. So I was back to the drawing board.
After several more abortive ideas I realized the real problem was staring me in the face. Communication on the Internet was a real challenge for most companies. What was the point of a website if you couldn’t get email? I created an email solution and within a year I had seven people working for me. I remember the first customer well, like every entrepreneur does – Falmouth College of Arts. Within a few years Telstra, the US Army, and NASA made to our customer list. I ran the world’s forum for email – anyone with a question about setting up email came to me. I owned the problem to which I happened to have a great solution.
Looking back, I was young and able to take the risk of jumping before I had an income.
But what was really required for my success was to get out of my comfort zone and test my ideas with strangers. I walked into shops, called people, sent them letters to discover what my potential customers thought and listened to the response before I built anything.
It was a great learning for me as I got to dive deep into their world and understand how they looked at things. By doing this I was able to quickly narrow down ideas that would really work at the end. Only after contacting and speaking to many hundreds of people did I eventually hit on a problem I could solve. That of providing communication on the internet.
The same process works now!
Statistics show that entrepreneurs over 40 have a significant advantage over the younger generations. The reason being they already know an industry and so they can see how things can be improved. They already have a network of people who’d benefit, the confidence to go and ask open questions and listen to the response. And because they already have an income, they are not financially stressed.
When you know how, testing an idea to see if it can become a source of revenue costs very little – just a pack of business cards, some time and a little thought. Some people stumble on the process, others stand on the shoulders of the greats. Many start in their spare time and their passion takes over and customers start arriving.
Knowing you have to ask open questions and listen is the key. Listen to the answers and find others with a passion to solve the same problem as you.
Then you have the dream team…
By Brian Dorricott
Founder of two businesses exited through multi-million MBO and sale to Cisco Systems, speaker and guide to hundreds of Entrepreneurs.