A 12-Step Program for Quitting Your Day Job

A lot of people come to me with the question, “I’ve got a great business/product/service idea. What do I do next?”

If you find yourself asking this question, my advice is to become a full-time entrepreneur and start a company to make and sell your product or service. In my experience, that is the best way to see it through to completion. Anything less will have a limited capacity for success.

It is unwise to expect to be able to run a company on nights and weekends. If you have a good idea, you will not get rich by, say, getting a patent and then sitting back while the money starts rolling in.

The only sure way to make something out of your good idea is to start a company around it to do all the things that companies must do in order to turn ideas into profits.

Here, in a nutshell, are the 12 steps I would take if I were you:

  1. Do market research to answer several important questions: (i) who are your customers and how many of them can you reasonably reach; (ii) what is the pain they currently feel for which your product is the medicine; (iii) why will they buy your product when they already clearly have some (presumably lesser) solution available; (iv) how much can you make it for; (v) how much can you sell it for?
  2. Know your customer, and bend yourself to their will. Everything you do from now on is in furtherance the customer’s happiness. Be prepared to give thy customer thanks and praise and to dedicate your life thereunto.
  3. Think of a name for the company and the product. Google the names you’ve chosen to ensure no one else is using them for similar products. Check out uspto.gov under trademark search and ensure no one else has trademarked your names for similar products. Check domain name availability to ensure you can get a domain name that is reasonably similar to your company or product name. Consider filing trademark applications on the brand names you choose to go with.
  4. Form a corporation or limited liability company in your state. If you have co-founders, draft an agreement with them that dictates how the company will be run and who gets how much stock and for making what contributions of time, money, or assets.
  5. Consider drafting a short summary of your haves and your needs in order to manufacture, market, and sell your product. It’s extraordinarily useful to get a sense of how much time and money you’ll need to launch your company and operate it until your product makes a profit. Then do yourself a favor and double all your estimates.
  6. If it turns out you do not have the immediate means to do this yourself, you’re going to need to sell stock to investors or bring in co-founders to help. You’ll need to draft a business plan and possibly a private placement memorandum. It will be important not to violate securities laws when selling stock to investors, so get good advice from an expert.
  7. If you’ve invented something, draft up a complete description of it, as detailed as possible. Consider filing this as a provisional patent at uspto.gov. A provisional patent, among other things, allows you to say “patent pending” for one year, by the end of which you will want to file a “real” nonprovisional patent application to continue the possibility of obtaining protection for your invention against competitors.
  8. Consider asking a patent lawyer to do a patent search and a patentability opinion on whether your invention is patentable. Also, whether you think you’ve invented anything or not, consider commissioning a “freedom to operate” analysis to ensure you won’t be infringing anyone else’s patent when you make, use, and sell your product or service.
  9. Paranoia is healthy, and you should be careful not to publicize your invention or your business plans too far or wide. You may want to get a form of nondisclosure agreement handy to use when you want to disclose intimate details to someone. But understand that you will need to be able to tell some people something about what you’re doing without getting them to sign anything. You will need a public version of your presentation. Many manufacturers and most investors will not sign a nondisclosure agreement when they first sit down with you, until you have convinced them that you’ve got something worth pursuing. Don’t go overboard with the paranoia, or you’ll never get anywhere. There are some evil people out there, but most people just don’t have time or inclination to rip you off.
  10. Consider starting a website to promote your product. You’ll need to settle on the look and feel of the advertizing and the message.
  11. If you’re going to make a hard product, interview manufacturers and get a prototype made. Either way, consider taking your product or service to appropriate trade shows and try to get potential customers to pre-order.
  12. Use written agreements with everyone, outside contractors as well as employees and founders and manufactures and everyone. The general rule for every business relationship is: Get it in writing, or it’s probably already broken in some way that is extraordinarily likely to eventually piss you off.

The above is but a pale shadow of the work required to form and launch a successful business venture. But hey, you gotta start somewhere. Start here. If you accomplish all of the above, you might then actually be able to see a finish line glimmering somewhere off in the distance.

Good luck!

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