Brody Sweeney is the founder of Dublin-based Camile Thai Kitchen, an award winning home delivery franchise.  Here, he shares his thoughts on ways in which you can find out if your new business idea is worth pursuing or not.

It’s a truism that the world is full of good ideas, but short of people who can execute the idea. Dreaming about starting a new business is a heady, thrilling and exciting adventure. But starting any new venture is fraught with risk, there are so many unknowns, not least of which is your ability to run it. Here’s the 10 step plan run through whenever an idea pops into my head.

you’ve slept on it.
What may seem like a brilliant idea over a few drinks with a friend may not last the overnight test. After some careful reflection, does it still seem like a good idea? The difference between dreamers and realists is that the realists can look at both sides of an idea, and see the potential problems and downfalls, and not just the upside.

you have explained it to 10 people who aren’t family.
Running your new idea past 10 people from different backgrounds is one of the best ways of testing your concept. Your family saying it’s a good idea is probably the worst reason to take the plunge, because your family love you, want to support you, and will tell you your fantastic because they don’t want to burst your bubble. 10 people will have ten different takes on the idea, and will spot flaws with your plan, which you may not have seen yourself. Honest feedback is what you need at this stage, and is worth its weight in gold. If you have access to independent professional advisers like Lawyers, Accountants or Bank Managers, even better. They will have seen lots of ideas, and will be able to give dispassionate advice (if you are prepared to listen to it!)

you can actually do it.
It’s not something people often consider, but running a new business where you have to make difficult decisions is really hard – and definitely not for everyone. For most people who start a new business, it is the most difficult thing they ever do. Understanding the commitment you have to make in time and energy, is obviously important.

Probably the no.1 determinant of the success of a new business idea is not the prices you charge, the quality of the product, or the toughness of the market – it’s you. In my experience in 40 years of franchising, the most successful franchisees are ones that are inherently good at business (even if they have no previous experience.) The opposite is also true – the poorer performers are often just not very good at recognising what’s important in the business and dealing with that.

The good news is that starting or running a business is not rocket science. The very best business people apply common sense to complex problems. Looking after your staff so that they look after your customers is just common sense. Minding the money, selling for more than it costs you to produce, marketing your business in a way that reaches most customers is just common sense. Surprisingly in short supply with lots of business owners, which creates opportunities for the smart ones to thrive.

think about starting a business in an area that you are familiar with.
It seems obvious, but how often do we see people starting things in an area they are not familiar with? They jump in, risking everything, and find out the hard way the nuances of the business they are looking at. If you think about it, lots of people start businesses in areas they have previously worked in. Someone who worked in a boutique may start a fashion business, an accountant may branch out on their own, having worked for a big firm, to start their own practice. When people come to me with a business idea, asking me what I think, I nearly always advise, if it’s in an area they’re not familiar with, to go work in a company that does what they’re thinking of and learn the trade.

you can afford it, or are able to get it funded.
Having an idea to build a Cruise Liner for your unique new singles cruise business may be a fantastic idea, but if you’re not able to come up with the €100 million you need to buy a boat, the idea can’t get off the ground. Most businesses start small and then grow, and as they grow and can demonstrate success, they have an increased ability to get investment, or to borrow money. Camile is now a substantial multi-million euro business, but at the start I had to find the money to open a single restaurant. That was a challenge, but one I knew I could overcome. Once the first one was open and successful, the bank was willing to fund a second one and so on.

you have researched the idea and made a plan.
Researching your idea properly and making a plan are the first serious steps in getting started. And the good thing is doing research doesn’t have to cost money. You can find out a lot about the market by looking at competitors or businesses in a similar space. You can find out what it costs to make something, rent space, advertise and market a product. While doing initial research you can start to write the plan for your business. A business plan is like a road map, to give you some idea of where you’re going. Who will you need to hire? How much will you have to pay them? Where will you operate the business from? How much space will you need? These are some of the questions you try and address in a plan.

you are able to deal with things not working out, and can change and adapt accordingly.
The only certainty about a business plan is that it will not work out the way you plan. You will either do better than you think, or worse. The important point here is that when it doesn’t work out as planned, that you are able to respond to that, and tweak the plan accordingly, to make up for any shortfalls. This is what successful business people do. When the plan doesn’t quite work out, they change it, and then they change it again, and they keep on changing it until they figure it out.

When I was setting up the business that became Camile, it started as a Chinese takeaway. That didn’t work, and I quickly change to Thai. I went into partnership with another Thai operator, and that didn’t work out, so I got out of that. At the end of the first year of my new business, I had changed the cuisine, changed the name over the door three times, and gone into and come out of a partnership – and the business survived. None of this was in the original business plan.

you’ve trialled it.
There a concept in new technology companies called developing a “Minimum Viable Product” or “MVP”. It’s a brilliant idea we adopted wholeheartedly when developing new business ideas. The basic concept is that you should try a really basic version of your idea out on as many people as possible, and start getting feedback which helps you refine and improve the idea rather thain waiting for perfection.

For example, we might have an idea for a new dish for our menu, which we think is briliiant. Before we heard about MVP we would just have put it on our menu and seen what happened. Now we don’t do that. Before going on the menu, we get 100 people to try it and get feedback on the name, the packaging, the price point etc. before we launch it. Sometimes after we do this 100 test, we abandon the idea, because we now know it wont work the way we had planned.

New entrepreneurs tend to obsess over the product or service, taking months to get it right, almost to the exclusion of everything else. The MVP method says get a basic version developed and expose it to customers ASAP and see how they react – maybe before you decide to bet the bank on it.

you’ve figured out that it can be sufficiently profitable to satisfy your requirements.
If you dream of making a lot of money, then you need to set up a business that has a chance to deliver on that. If your dreams are more modest – a good living for example, or just to be your own boss and not have to work for someone else – then you might think of a different type of business.

It’s a good idea at the time you are thinking of starting a business, to do a personal life plan. How much would you have to earn in a year to make you feel fulfilled – for you to feel that you had arrived? Where do you want to live? Do you like working nights (good if you want to run a restaurant business), or are you more an early morning person? Your new business ideas should tick some of these and other boxes.

you have worked out your usp’s.
Every business should have something different about it that will differentiate it from it’s competitors. It doesn’t have to be a huge obvious difference – but it needs to be there. Better service than the competition is not necessarily a ground breaking idea, but if you had stayed in a Four Seasons Hotel and compared that to a Premier Inn, the difference is obvious. In Camile we developed Health, Wellness and Sustainability in hot food delivery as our USPs.

There is an old saying in business that you can deliver two of the following three things, but not all three – Low Price / Good Service / High Quality. If you think about our Camile business we have picked service and quality, but not price. Ryanair have picked quality and price, but not service. Which are the two for your business idea?

Turning your business idea from a dream into reality is what we all aspire to. But having that realistic look at the idea, understanding your own wants and desires, and capabilities will help you make a better decision.

Good luck and stay safe.

2 Responses

  1. Great advice from a great serial Irish entrepreneur. A man who’s been there, done that – and is doing it again with Camile – and knows what he’s talking about!

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