“I have an idea for a business. Should I speak to my boss about it and suggest a partnership with the company I’m working for?”
“Or should I go out on my own? And risk everything?”
A friend (who works for a very well-known brand) asked me the above question a few days ago. He wants to build a marketplace ecosystem for a very specific buyer-seller community.
This question is a bit more involved than it seems. If you’re in a similar situation, read on.
Let’s first zoom out to see the business in totality.
What you see below is called the Lean Canvas. It’s a one-page template that allows you to mentally walk through each critical part of your business idea.
The goal is to help you avoid blind spots. And to nudge you to think about the risks (and how you would mitigate those risks) in each area of your business.
You start from box 1 on the right (Your customer) and then move to the left (box 2, their problem)..then to box 3 at the center (your unique value proposition).
You may be surprised to see that what we usually think of as our “idea” only shows up in box 4 (the “solution”). This is because unless the solution solves a major pain point for a significantly large audience, it’s probably not going to be paid for and used by a sufficient number of customers.
After that, there are 5 more boxes you need to think about.
With that context in mind, let’s explore this question deeper: Should you explore a partnership with your large company?
Here are some points to consider:
1. The Why: Why do you want to start a new business? Is it because you’re so smitten by the idea that you just can’t shake it off? What’s your vision? Is it because you want to build leverage and wealth? What about your employer? What is their key motivation?
This is the most important point. If you’re not aligned here with your employer, I would recommend that you don’t move forward. It will not end well.
2. Fears: What are you afraid of? What are they afraid of? If you’re comfortable sharing your fears with them and vice-versa, that’s a great beginning. Vulnerability is a sign of confidence in the right context.
3. Areas of focus: Among the above 9 boxes (in the Lean Canvas above), in which areas would you focus on and in which areas would you want your company’s personnel to pitch in?
If you’re confident about boxes 1, 2, 3, and 4, you probably have sufficient insight and understanding of the industry to lead the rest of the team. And you can rely on their expertise and experience to mitigate the risks in the other boxes
4. Customer empathy: Why do you care about these customers? And why do you care about the specific problem(s) you want to solve for them? What about your company personnel? How much would they care?
It isn’t reasonable to expect them to care about the customer as much as you would. But there should be sufficient interest, desire, and even excitement from them to engage with your customers and make their lives better.
5. Going the distance: A business is a marathon, not a sprint. In most cases, it’ll take no less than 5 years before you start seeing some good results. Individually, you will of course need that have that kind of persistence and patience. But what about them? How long will they last?
Once again, you’ll find that most people tend to give up early. However, if you can lead and inspire them well, you should be able to get at least 20% of them to step up and then lead the others.
6. Who has the last word? You’ll need to be very clear about this. Where does the buck stop? For some of the 9 boxes in the Lean Canvas, you could be the person with veto power. And in others, it could be someone from the team. But decide this upfront and have it written down and shared with the team beforehand.
7. Trust: How long have you worked for your employer? How much do you trust them? How consistent have they been in making and keeping their promises to you and others?
This is the hardest bit. It’s a good idea to play devil’s advocate here and become as objective as possible while evaluating the character of your employer. A good exercise is to look at how they handled things when things were tough. And also how fair they were in sharing rewards when things were going well.
As with anything, there is no one right answer.
My opinion however is that in most cases going it alone or along with 1 or 2 co-founders is better than trying to partner with a large company. Things are just easier when there’s a strong sense of interdependence within the team – and this happens more when all of you have the same starting point.
I’ll leave you with two more thoughts:
- Start: Do the analysis. Talk to people. Do your research. Talk to potential customers. Keep working on the idea. It may evolve into something entirely different, and that totally fine. But keep moving forward. Don’t stop.
- Stay lean: At some point, you’ll want to test out your idea and see how well it works. Make sure to try the simplest thing that could possibly work. For example, you may not need a sophisticated tech solution to test out a marketplace. Instead, why not just start and moderate a Whatsapp group where you have the buyers and sellers in one place? You’d be surprised how much you can get done with just totally free easy-to-use tools.
Good luck ♥