Moving from idea, good or bad, to a sustainable business is the goal of every entrepreneur, but this is a very difficult task. Ideas don’t matter much. I call this the “Twinkie Theory.” If I put a group of folks in a room and told them I had an idea for a golden sponge cake filled with whipped cream, they would most likely say, “Hmmm, no one needs that. It’s not healthy.”
Twinkies are arguably a bad idea, but Hostess makes a great deal of money selling them. Its a sustainable business. Likewise, I’ve come across numerous ideas and you might think, “That’s a great idea!!!” but never had a chance at being a sustainable business.
I am guest lecturing at the University of Ljubljana this semester and am helping with an introduction to entrepreneurship course. Yesterday after class, a student approached me and asked, “Why do good businesses have to involve innovation and new products?” I get this type of question often, and it appears to be fairly universal.
While innovation and new products are part of it, entrepreneurship is really about meeting market needs. The fact is that the market needs car washes and coffee shops just as much as it needs iPods. That’s not to underplay the importance of innovation, but students (and others) should be identifying opportunities based on trends and underserved markets, along with what is of personal interest to them, rather than tossing out business ideas that are not “unique” enough. It may take innovation or a new product to meet a market need, but it may not. And one way isn’t better than the other.