So, I had an idea for a business. What next? Research!
Although I’d never run across any other company or website doing what I wanted to do, it did not mean it was not already out there. My first step was to make sure that my idea was unique. I knew exactly what I wanted — or at least, I knew generally exactly what I wanted (I wanted to build a company that helped online shoppers — such as myself — buy what we wanted to buy, from the place we wanted to buy it, when we wanted or needed it, at the best possible price ever offered). But was there already someone doing it?
I created a list of every keyword associated with my idea: online shopping, e-commerce, e-retailers, e-stores, shopping aggregators, saving money online, cutting coupons, e-coupon sites, efficient shopping, saving time online, etc. I spent five days in the public library while my children were at camp, following one keyword to twenty sites, which lead me to ten new keywords and twenty new sites. Sometimes, the information felt valuable. A lot of times, it felt off-topic. But I knew I was getting closer to answering my question.
I took copious notes (which is code for “cut-and-pasting”). I looked into market sizes, leading companies in similar markets, census information (you’d be surprised how much data our government tracks and analyzes), hot trends in e-commerce, hot trends in coupon use, coupon demographics, e-commerce trends, shopping cart optimization, conversion marketing, etc. I took a lot of bathroom breaks. I let myself flip through a magazines in the “Periodical” section every two hours. I was deep into a world that was complex, active and cutting-edge. There were a lot of players, a lot of success and a lot of failure. There was so much to do and so much more to learn.
But no one was doing exactly what I wanted to do.
I delved deep into the websites of “tangential competitors” (I called this my “rogue McKinsey approach”) and spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand the roles of affiliates online. I learned about retailers and what drives their sales, what keeps them up at night and how they have talk about using the internet to shape their future growth.
This led me into the world of technology itself. If I was going to start an internet company (versus a “brick-and-mortar” or offline-based operation), I knew I had to understand the basics. I’d never taken a computer science class. The truth was — I didn’t really understand where that damn web-highway was kept. My early searches started with “How the Internet works” and ran all the way to the issue and implications of Internet 2.0 (also known as Web 2.0, Internet2). HMTL For Dummies. Software Architecture. Designing a website. Thank goodness for Wikipedia. I scoured their site and worked my way through their largest articles. I had to re-read most of them twice. Or three times. Some, I’m still working on.
Every afternoon, I left the library and headed for camp pick-up. I was exhausted — and exhilarated. By the end of the week, I felt confident that my idea was, in fact, original. Or rather, original-enough. There were many companies whose business touched on various aspects of my idea but no one had brought them all together into one format. It was a large market. No one was doing exactly what I wanted to do. My idea was evolving into something.