You’ve come up with an idea that’s filled with possibilities and you want to see how far you could take it. So how do you make it happen? How do you turn that idea into a business?
Sarah Agboola and Yan Ting Choong were in this exact position 18 months ago after meeting at our weekend startup bootcamp and coming up with a sticky idea. Both entered the program knowing they would eventually start their own business, but neither expected to stumble upon an idea that had so much potential, so soon.
After getting encouraging feedback from the bootcamp judging panel, Sarah and Ting wanted to take the idea one step further. 18 months on, they have a functioning business with customers and revenue, that’s now their full-time job.
Here they share the steps they took to build out their idea into a business.
1. Continue to validate your idea and speak to potential customers
Sarah and Yan Ting’s business, M-Time, provides all-in-one personal assistants trained specifically to help parents at home – Moncierges. After the bootcamp, they decided the next step was to further test the market appetite for their service.
They undertook a simple, but what turned out to be an incredibly effective, test. They created an Instagram account, got some stock images, and presented a ‘test’ version of their service at a fee to gauge the response. “I wouldn’t have thought I could do that, because we didn’t have a product to sell. But within three hours of posting, people were actually buying our service! We were so surprised and had to scramble around to fulfil the orders,” says Sarah
“Test your idea on Instagram or post something on Facebook to see what the response is. It takes little effort but the returns can be so strong and can change your whole pathway, like it did for me”.
2. Take it seriously, think of it like a business
“We incorporated pretty early on. We needed an ABN for tax purposes and to pay the people we’d hired for those ‘accidental’ sales. When we did that we knew we were responsible for all these mums and children, so that made it feel legit; it wasn’t a little side project.” says, Sarah.
“We kept interviewing parents, but then we were stuck on what to do next. What staff do we need to hire? What kind of services do we offer? How do we deliver the best experience? When we accidently sold all these packages on Instagram, I realised I didn’t have all the skills to run the business like I wanted to and I really needed help. We figured if we learned so much in 3 days what could we learn if we studied entrepreneurship for a year, together,” says, Yan Ting.
“Also, I was advised to spend every Friday to stop, sit, and plan what we need to do. That way you can go into the weekend relaxed and let our mind relax. Then come Monday, you didn’t even have to think about what to do, just focus on the tasks you prepared and not worry about the backlog of to-do’s. Then the next Friday, think and plan again,” says Sarah.
3. Find a co-founder to keep you motivated
Sarah and Yan Ting are both equally passionate about their business but it’s their differences in personality that has helped them weather the inevitable hard times. “When one of us is feeling down and stressed about something, the other one points out the problem isn’t that bad and helps lift the other out of that funk. We balance each other out”. Doing it alone puts all the pressure on you to build the business and be your own motivator day-in day-out.
Sarah, originally from Wagga Wagga, flew back and forth to Melbourne to continue working on the idea with Ting. “When Sarah permanently moved to Melbourne, that made it feel like we were really committed to make it work,” say Yan Ting.
4. Listen to the market but don’t ignore your gut
While the positive early feedback reinforced a market need, it wasn’t long before Sarah and Yan Ting got overwhelmed by all the feedback that took their idea further away from their original vision.
“When we started talking to customers about the specific service, they’d say things like ‘no, this is the problem you should fix’, or ‘we need this not that’. That was really unsettling to hear, but I’m glad we stuck to our guts. We learned that sometimes the customer doesn’t know what they want,” says Yan Ting.
“Early on, we offered customers the ability to pick any Moncierge service they wanted, but they picked options that weren’t optimal, like a full session of babysitting. The real value of our offering is to take up a flexible combination of tasks,” says Yan Ting. In response to the feedback but not deviating too far from their value proposition, they optimised the service to include an initial ‘taster’ of M-Time services to showcase the value of their offering and help the customer make a more informed decision.
5. Find mentors who can guide you in the right direction
Lastly, it’s the connections Sarah and Yan Ting made over the last 18 months, that helped them leapfrog from idea to business. “You need to talk to as many people as possible about your idea because you never know who’ll be able to help you, give you advice, steer you in the right path. Every time I talk about M-Time, I get a fresh perspective and it reignites my passion for the business,” says Sarah.
One of their very first advisers form the weekend startup bootcamp, mentor and entrepreneur Marcus Powe [pictured above], actually helped them choose their name [M-Time] and he continues to provide help, guidance, and advice. “Just last week, we had coffee with Marcus to tell him how we were going and to get his advice. Advice from someone who’s seen M-Time grow from nothing to now, is really valuable,” says Sarah.
Much of their rich network was gained through their year in the Master of Entrepreneurship, but you can go to meetups like Startup Victoria Pitch Nights to find a mentor. Or, look deeper at your own network to find people with relevant domain experience and proactively reach out to them for a coffee.
Here, you’ve got simple but effective steps to turn your idea into a business, from entrepreneurs who have lived it. The startup community is very open and collaborative, so there are lots of resources if you get stuck. Just keep taking one step after another and you could walk right into a whole new career!
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