HYPE invited Drew Harris, a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Central Connecticut State University
, to come discuss transforming business ideas into a successful startup. He began the discussion with an activity involving everyone’s favorite cookie, the Oreo
. He asked each of us to think of any five business ideas, using the cookie as inspiration. HYPE members quickly jotted down as many as they could in the minute time limit. He then told us to gain some sensory input from the cookie. Touch it, smell and taste it, anything we could do to get a better feel for the product. We then had another minute to think of five new ideas, many of which were much better than the original five.
Drew explained the importance of gathering as much information about your product as possible. You need to think about it from different angles and perspectives. He also advocated goal setting. By telling us to think of five ideas, rather than as many as possible, we were actually able to come up with more ideas because we had a goal we needed to strive for. These are some of the important lessons he based his discussion off of.
Similar to deciding on your product, you must give careful consideration to your market. An entrepreneur needs to realize which customer to target based on their business model. One example Drew gave was the companies who sell products through school children, giving their school a percentage of each sale. While the end product goes to the parents and community, the company is really selling to the school principal and the PTA. Once you are able to get them on board, they will do the rest of the selling for you. Going back to one of the Oreo ideas, “personalized cookies”, Drew explained that you don’t necessarily want to be the bakery that makes each personalized Oreo, but maybe the company that sells the Oreo engraving machine to the bakery.
A successful entrepreneur that Drew mentioned various times throughout the discussion was a bagel shop owner in his hometown. The shop is located in a strip mall, directly across the street from McDonalds and near a Dunkin Donuts. The owner is able to still thrive in this location, because he found his niche and has been great at promoting. He knew he couldn’t beat the corporate giants for the rush hour customers so he doesn’t even bother anymore. He opens later and caters to stay at home moms and retired people throughout the day. He then gets an influx of business as the High School closes and teenagers are looking for a bite to eat. The entrepreneur closes at 4:00 and is home in time for dinner with his family. He has been doing great business and is happy with his life because he found his niche.
The bagel shop owner also is smart about his promotions. While other local businesses are donating money directly to schools and youth programs, he instead donates a coupon book and allows the organization to sell it for whatever price they can get. This gives him a large, energetic, sales force, running around their neighborhoods advertising his product for free! Customers benefit from discounted prices, the school benefits from the donation and lastly he benefits from the cheap viral marketing. Probably the most powerful sales method to this day is still face to face and this entrepreneur has found a way to harness its power with little time and cost to himself.
Drew asked us at the end of the presentation if there was anything we would take away
from it and be able to use. I found myself astounded at how some of the simplest things can go unnoticed by the aspiring entrepreneur. For instance, Drew told the audience when gathering information to talk directly to your target market and see what they want. I was amazed at the simplicity of the lesson and yet I had always failed to think of doing that. With business ideas I found myself asking friends, entrepreneurs, Google, and anything else to see the best way to set up a business, but never the target themselves!
We would like to thank Drew Harris for his great lesson and knowledgeable advice. The next Entrepreneur Round table will be on April 26th focuses on Building your Team + Networking + Management
. To reserve your spot and attend the event, please click here