Turning a failed idea into a success

Once you realize a business idea can't work, having the fortitude to walk away is a success in itself

Mark Duncan/AP/File
Dr. Cornwall argues that moving on from a failed concept is its own success.

A student come up to me before class the week before their business plans were due this past semester looking very dejected.  
"My concept just can't work," she said.  The more she tried to pivot the business model, the more she uncovered evidence that convinced her that she had reached a dead end.

This is what is known as a teachable moment.

Aspiring entrepreneurs go through an arduous process between the initial spark of an idea to the eventual launch of a business.  

They start by sifting through the various ideas they have to find the one that has the most promise.  Many ideas may appear promising at a first glance, but careful assessment helps to sort out those that have little promise. Eventually, the entrepreneur selects a product or service they hope will be accepted by the market.

The next step is for the entrepreneur to take the idea and begin to build a business model. 

The primary goal of business modeling is not to try and rationalize starting a business based on your idea.  Instead, the objective is to discover all of the challenges, flaws, and gaps that need to be addressed if you have any hope of moving from a good idea to a successful business.  Business modeling is a process of finding problems and fixing them by altering and expanding the operating framework needed to launch the business and, when necessary, pivoting the concept based on what is learned about your customers and what they really want.   

When developing a business model, you may reach a point where you realize that no matter what you do, it just won't work.  This realization can happen very late in the process even at the point when you are developing a written business plan based on the business model.  If that happens, no matter how much time and effort you have put into the project, you need to be decisive and abandon it.

But this is much easier said than done.  You have spent countless hours talking about the business with friends and family.  You have shared your idea with advisors and mentors.  You may have even pitched the idea in business plan competitions and to investor groups.  It feels like your reputation is riding on getting the business launched.  There is a sense of inevitability that launching the business is what you are going to do.

But do not ignore the evidence.  Have the fortitude to walk away.  The fact that you have spent countless hours getting your idea to this point is not a reason to keep moving ahead.

So back to that teachable moment....  

As class started that morning I asked the student to share her story with her classmates. I then looked her in the eyes and emphatically said, "You did a great job!  You stayed true to the process and had the courage to acknowledge that your concept just won't work.  Congratulations!"

The end of this story is that while her initial idea did not work out, the process helped her discover several new ideas and gave her the opportunity to make several new connections with people to add to her network.  She learned the lesson that while her idea may have failed, she was successful.

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