It was a bit of ‘jealousy’ towards a classmate that made Phani N Raj a businessman. School time memory of a student who had personalised clothing and stationery continued to be etched strong in his mind till much later, making him leave his PricewaterhouseCoopers job and start the branding company eYantra. “He was from the US and his cap, pencil box, T-shirt, everything had his name on it. I yearned for such personalised stuff, but there was nothing in India then to meet my demand.” This got him thinking until he arrived at an idea to set up virtual stores where buyers can choose personalised stuff and get them delivered at their doorsteps. Mr Raj is one of the very few with the entrepreneurial spirit who have managed to be lucky enough to convert an idea into business. But most people end up thinking and discussing their bright ideas, but stop short of converting them to prototypes. Experts say there is a set of easy steps that could help any one to nurture a thought and take it forward to see if the kernel of a viable business is contained in it. Look for it The first thing, of course, is to remain alert to the sights and experiences one comes across, because big ideas may be lurking in the most unlikely corners. For Shalabh Sahai, who co-founded the volunteering service MITRA, it all started at the college canteen over tea. He had been trying to understand why there was a communication gap between individuals who wanted to volunteer for social service and the groups that were organising such efforts. “It became our favourite topic of discussion at the canteen,” he says. Thus arose an idea for setting up an online exchange for volunteers. It also helps to jot down an idea to see if it stands the test of time. A great idea may not sound all that great, when considered a day later. An idea is just of a few words long. Only when you sit down and pen it you realise the real picture. It is crucial to go into the details. You need to ask yourself the right questions — what is the compelling need it fulfils, who will benefit from it, is there demand for it and who will fund it? Preparing a business model answering these questions is vital, says Mr Sahai. The answers will tell you whether to pursue the idea or drop it. Read the market An idea from a rookie entrepreneur would be worthless if the product or service doesn’t have the prospect of demand in the market. Industry associations, websites, journals and professional agencies can all help, but an innovator needs to have well-defined ideas on whether a market exists. This is but the first step to gain confidence that an idea can work. If the demand picture is hazy or non-existent, one should have the courage to drop the idea and move on to other things. Sometimes, ideas emerge from necessities. When you have too many projects to handle and too few people and you can’t be at the office 24x7. Emails and phone calls may not be sufficient to handle the complexity of the work. Sahil Parikh, founder and president of Synage, came up with a solution for his office — Deskaway. A software program that helps execute projects online. “The concept was new in India, but I was sure if it is a hit in my office it will be in the market,” says Mr Parikh. Ideas can be ahead of their time Latent demand doesn’t immediately translate into a viable business opportunity and some ideas, attractive as they seem, might simply be ahead of their time. But there are people who have stuck to their business and made it a success in due course of time. An idea who time is yet to come need not necessarily fail, but the entrepreneur must be able to envision the trend of the future that might make it succeed. “I thought of specialising in cyber law and starting cyberlawcollege.com, when even the concept of internet was new,” Bangalore-based consultant Naa Vijayashankar (Naavi) says. “An idea ahead of times is not accepted well,” but perseverance pays. “Now, I have become a specialist in cyber law by default. So, you need to wait for the right time to come and don’t lose faith in your idea. Believe that if not today, five years down the line, it will click,” he says. When criminal lawyer KS Kohli wanted to start a seven-day cabin crew training for airlines, everyone thought he was crazy as all other institutes offered full-year courses. But, he knew that Indian skies were going to be opened up for competition and there would be a surge in the need for flight crew. He stuck to the idea and built a successful operation, branded Frankfinn. Customise to market needs The aim should be to gain a general sense of the type of customer your product or service will serve. Identify your clients well enough so that you can modify your product as per their need. If the business is designed to serve the domestic market, it should have that flavour. “People work differently in different countries. So, it is very important to give Indian touch to your product,” says Mr Parikh. eYantra’s Mr Raj says that he moved over from personalised stuff to corporate brand recall after the internet bust and it worked. MITRA’s Mr Sahai agrees: “We start as novices so we should never be too rigid. We need to learn and adjust our ideas to changes and be open to modifications.” It is also important to hear people out. Because sometimes your business idea may come from the person you least expect it from, just casually, even over beer. M Sanjay Kanth, CEO, founder, ESS Solutions, was originally in the medical transcription business. But, the industry was losing its sheen. He knew the president of a title company based out of Baltimore. That person told Mr Kanth that there was refinance boom in the US which has resulted into a huge backlog in terms of production. Incidentally, his brother M Sujay Kanth, who is now the COO of ESS, happened to be in US to explore business opportunities. They took up this opportunity. This was their first break. “Initially, we had no clue of what was going on and it was very hard to grasp. We took it as a challenge and Sujay got trained in their office for about 40 days after which we started the transition to my India office from 2004,” says Mr Kanth. Sell the idea to investors Money is often the biggest bridge that a first-time entrepreneur has to cross. It is important to sell the concept to potential investors. The startup should also detail a proper plan of how much money needs to be raised and how it would be spent. Projecting cash flow milestones will become easier if the homework to understand the demand had been done. There are also investment bankers who help you get venture capital against a ‘success fee’ i.e they will only charge you if you get funding. But, there is another way in which entrepreneurs get going. They first start a small establishment, may be in a garage with a bit of furniture, and ramp up as the business builds itself. Frankfinn’s Mr Kohli started his business Frankfinn Medico Infoservices by borrowing Rs 40,000 from his friend. But, when the right time came, he used his own fund for starting cabin crew training business. Remember, the customer must eventually “pay” for your business. Everybody else is waiting to get paid. Loss-making as a business virtue perished with the dotcom bust. Start now All the risk you have taken by giving up your cosy job or turning down a big offer has finally paid back. Well, once things are in place just get started. Your idea is now a viable business proposition and has a funding. So, what are you waiting for? “It is very important when starting out is to be mentally prepared for a different journey filled with uncertainty and excitement. This entrepreneurial journey will teach you more about yourself than you would have ever known doing anything else,” says Mr Parikh.