Looking for a business idea?

It may be as close as your own backyard

OK, so you want to become an entrepreneur and make the big bucks. You’ve taken the courses, joined an incubator and a think tank, but you have one thorny problem: You can’t seem to come up with an idea for something that will actually sell.

I remember one guy who had taken the courses to develop apps for the iPhone. He figured one killer app would make him a kazillionaire. Every time he came up with an idea, he went to the app store only to find there were already a number of apps that did exactly that.

Being the first to come up with something has its advantages, and it’s not always easy to do. In my experience, some of the most successful entrepreneurs weren’t necessarily trying to become entrepreneurs. They came up with ideas, may even have tried to sell them, and when nobody wanted them, they produced them themselves.

For instance, one of my clients, Conard Associates in Nashua, has a fairly successful consulting and executive coaching practice.

Rod Conard has an intense desire to improve things, and his wife Patty is great at marketing. They have a lovely daughter, Grace, who became interested in golf and needed lessons. They met a local pro, Seth Dichard, who was very helpful.

Seth invented a little device he calls the Putt-Rite Speed Trainer. (Google it, if you want to see what it looks like). When putting, it’s important to aim for the hole, but it’s also important to ensure the ball is going neither too fast nor too slow. They call it precise distance control.

“What if you could take five strokes off your game?” Buying this device and carrying it in your bag won’t do that for you, but if you practice with it …

Rod knows a lot about business. He brought Seth and his idea before his JumpStart Advisors, a group of retired CEOs willing to help new businesses with huge potential get off the ground. Unfortunately, this idea wasn’t big enough to interest them, so the Conards teamed up with Seth and started Evolution Golf Products.

They refined the design, found suppliers for the components and assembled the final products themselves. They have a website from which people can order them. They’ve invested a small amount and want to grow the business organically, no venture capital, etc.

Of course, getting the word out is the biggest challenge.  Advertising, booths at golf shows and the like are expensive. And they face all the other challenges of founding and building a business; it’s no easy task.

The age-old business advice is to find a need and fill it. That’s essentially what they’ve done. It’s exactly what Larry Page and Sergey Brin did when they founded Google.

Now, I’m not really a golfer. I used to play back in my flying days. My pilot friends were golfers. We would fly to Mount Snow, New Seabury or some such course, play 18 holes and fly home. I went for the flying time. I was never a good golfer, so I can’t personally attest to the effectiveness of this device. But I can say that finding a real need and filling it works marvelously well.

Steve Jobs had a penchant for conceiving products we didn’t even know we wanted until we saw them, and then we couldn’t live without them. And, yes, that’s very lucrative, but there aren’t a lot of folks who can do that.

For many of us, the best approach is really to look around our own backyards and think of or improve something that’s really needed. Solve a thorny problem. The big bucks just don’t seem to come without lots of customers.

I don’t know if the Putt-Rite will make these guys millionaires or not, but they’re having fun and helping people. What could be better than that?

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.