We asked creator and founder of UV Angel, Ted Cole, to share some of the challenges he has faced creating a startup, as well as a few lessons he's learned along the way. Here's Ted's wisdom on turning your idea into a successful startup.
Getting a new startup from an original idea to a viable entity definitely comes with lots of challenges.
First among those is getting your idea refined and into a form (proof of concept or prototype) that's good enough to clearly communicate to others. I remember the first few times I tried to present my ideas, relying on simple sketches and written or verbal explanations. People were polite and said they understood what I was explaining to them, but I truly do not think others really "get" your concept unless you put it into some type of prototype form, whether physical or electronic.
You need to be 100% certain that people are "seeing" the same concept that you are. Too often, people are just being nice when they say they understand your idea, when often they don't, or only partially do. This prototype showpiece is what you're going to use to communicate your concept to potential investors or the various networks of engineers & other professionals that will eventually help you bring it into reality.
The quality of this prototype also communicates how serious you are (or aren't) personally about your idea. If it's something you clearly put serious thought and work into, that will show and communicate your level of commitment to the concept.
Everyone is aware of the importance of this step, but I wish I knew when I started some of the things I know now. Although I used to, I no longer believe in simple, cheap Intellectual Property (IP) protection. To me, that's like simple, cheap open-heart surgery.
IP protection is established and stands or falls on the expertise of the first person who writes the initial IP. That initial IP needs to not only be penned by someone who's a really good IP lawyer, but someone who's also an expert in the field pertinent to your concept. I believe that person should also be an Electrical Engineer if your concept is an electronic device, a Mechanical Engineer if it's some kind of widget, etc. Your IP protection is only as valuable as that person's ability to understand the most important, key concepts that set your idea apart, and how to describe and protect those key concepts. I now believe the "do it yourself" and other cheap IP options to be not only a waste of money, but likely the biggest mistake you can make early in the process. Eventually, almost all the value of your company can typically come down to how well your original IP was written, so do NOT take the cheapest option. That is my strongest recommendation for this part of the process.
The next part can take a LOT of work. Finding and establishing the network of various experts and companies needed to help get your idea from a rough concept to a viable product.
It's easy to find the places that can do it for a ton of money. The problem is most startups don't have a ton of money. You need to find the places that do high quality work for an extremely competitive price point. They exist. You just have to find them. You do this by asking anyone you can find that may have a clue, and often just by going through the list of places in your area, and calling and meeting with them one by one. The difference in cost can be ten fold, so how thoroughly you vet this process will have a significant impact on how much money you need to raise.
Throughout all of the steps, you need to always be in fundraising mode. If you don't need money now, you will at some point, so fundraising is an ongoing, perpetual process, and really is just the sales process where you're selling an idea instead of a product.
This seems to be where many people struggle. Sometimes they're so afraid of someone trying to steal their idea that they never share it with anyone, and how many "sales" would you expect from that? None. Sometimes it's just being shy. I believe you always need to be prepared to pitch your idea, and once you have some initial IP protection established, I think you need to be aggressively sharing that idea at every opportunity.
I'm amazed how many of my key contacts, partners, and investors have been acquired from the most unlikely scenarios, where I just happened to be prepared to share my idea impromptu, and deliberately made opportunities to do so. If I had a doctor’s appointment, I'd make sure to have my iPad with me, and spark a conversation about my idea. If you're fishing, the more lines you can put in the water, the greater your likelihood of landing a big one. The vast majority of my key people have come into the project this way. You need to turn your daily schedule into opportunities, wherever you happen to be.
Something I've had to learn several times now, at various stages of the development process, is not to be afraid of what you don't know yet, or haven't done yet. Several times, when I'd reached a stage in the development of my company that was a major milestone, I'd look ahead and see completely uncharted waters, not having a clue how to proceed, convinced at the time I should probably turn it over to someone who has done this before.
At those times, fortunately, one of my best advisors told me that no one would have the same passion, vision, or drive for my company as I would, and that passion, vision and drive would see me through. He was right. I look back now on the several times and faced those fears and still forged ahead, and now on the other side of those milestones, I'm so glad I stuck with it. I've not only learned and grown in the process, I've had a blast doing it.
My final thought is that in picking and choosing partners, investors, and vendors, I believe one of the most important components is your ability to work positively together with a sense of shared vision and character. I've found that if this is true, each person or group brings much more to the table than just their particular component, so the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts.
I have software vendors (like CQL) that are not only top notch software people, they've become my good friends and some of my best sources of ideas, business advisors, sounding boards, and cheerleaders, along with simply being a blast to work with. This is so much better than choosing a software company that simply takes a work order, performs a task, then sends you a bill. I've carefully chosen my entire team this way, so now I have an incredibly valuable think tank, advisory group, enthusiastic source of positive inspiration.