How do I know this? Because – as someone who works in innovation – I have people tell me their ideas all the time. And you know what – the ideas I hear are pretty darn good! Most of you have identified a very real consumer need, and your idea has a great benefit for the consumer. But I hate hearing those ideas, because it always sets me up to be the bad guy when people ask “How can I get someone to pay me for my idea?”
The answer is – you can’t. No matter who you are and how strong your personal brand is, your ideas are completely worthless. The only way to get someone to support you in making your ideas a reality, is to prove that your idea has potential and that you are the person to make that happen.
In very rare cases, the strength of your brand is enough to convince investors to get behind you. It took Square founder Jack Dorsey only 2 weeks and 25 meetings spread across New York and Silicon Valley to raise $10 million. But Jack Dorsey’s reputation, as the founder of Twitter, stood as a strong Reason To Believe (RTB) that his new idea would be successful.
Most of us don’t have that pedigree to call on when we present an idea. That’s why our personal brands cannot stand alone as an RTB. Instead, we need to show that our idea will be successful and we’re the person to make it happen.
ABC’s show Shark Tank does an amazing job of showing this dynamic in action. The Sharks are absolutely ruthless in throwing out companies that don’t have the magic combination of a great idea and a founder with the personal brand to make it happen.
Recently, I watched a company called Grace and Lace present on Shark Tank. As the husband and wife team described their business selling lace boot socks, the Sharks listened politely with a slightly disinterested air. You could tell that the Sharks really didn’t get why anyone would want to buy fancy boot socks.
Then the founders revealed that in the past 12 months, they’d had $1.25 million in sales. Instantly, the Sharks jolted to attention. Suddenly lace boot socks were no longer a cute idea – they were a proven product with a passionate niche audience. And, the founders weren’t just dreamers – they were go-getters that made things happen. Suddenly multiple Sharks wanted in (video), and the Grace and Lace founders were able to pick-and-choose the investment partner that was right for them.
Contrast this to a failed Shark Tank pitch that stands out in my memory because it failed on both counts. Baby’s Baddass Burgers is a food truck concept that is booming in LA and the founders went on Shark Tank wanting $250K for a 30% stake in their business. The founders revealed sales data and the Sharks were ready to get on board – until they ask the founders what they wanted to do with their money.
That’s when the Baby’s Badass Burgers entrepreneurs made their fatal mistake. “We’re going to open our first storefront,” they said.
The Sharks were stunned – and immediately lost interest. Why? Because the Baby’s Badass Burgers founders had a good idea in the food trucks and a track record of success – and they were willing to completely walk away from a proven concept to go in a new direction. One of the founders tried to insist that she had experience opening restaurants, but it wasn’t enough. The Sharks were completely unwilling to throw their money behind an untried concept in a new market.
If you watch Shark Tank, you’ll see this dynamic occur over and over. The Sharks invest in great ideas, but they only invest in the ideas where the brand of the entrepreneur screams I-will-make-it-happen. That’s why they invest in entrepreneurs who collect scrap metal in order to get the initial seed money for their business, or who are so passionate about making sure that others don’t get the skin cancer they faced at a young age that they will do anything to make their business work. And it’s why they don’t invest in snake oil salesmen (video) who are only in it to make a quick buck. Personal brand is everything when someone is trying to get funding for their idea.
So if you’re someone with a great idea, don’t think that you will be able to get backing for your idea based on the strength of the idea alone. Even if that idea is the most amazing possibility in the world, it doesn’t have value until you prove you can make it happen. And you don’t do that just by telling others how great your idea is – you do it by showing that you can make results.