Pulling the plug Featured

11:11am EDT January 25, 2005
Some ideas are wonderful but do not make a viable business. No matter how much you believe in the product or service, if it can't be profitable, eventually you'll have the pull the plug. If you don't, someone else will pull it for you.

Realizing your concept simply isn't going to cut it in the marketplace is, by far, the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur . I've seen business plans with great ideas that were almost impossible to sell; likewise for clever devices or inventions that could be part of a larger product line, but on their own couldn't support a separate division, much less a stand-alone business.

Then there are the ideas that never should have made it past a 30-second flash but were somehow embraced. I recently encountered one of these. Even the company's founder admitted he didn't think anyone would buy the product, but he wouldn't let go because it made for such a nice dream.

There are also business ideas that make perfect sense but require more capital than can be raised or diverted from a main business. I saw one "idea company" that was based on a very good concept, but required in excess of $100 million to make it a reality. The odds of that happening today are virtually nonexistent. Dean Kamen might have raised more than $50 million for the Segue scooter, but there are few people with his credentials and, even now, the jury is still out on whether the Segue will ever live up to its business plan.

William Faulkner advised writers to "kill your darlings," those words that are so precious to the author but of no value to the prose. It is extremely difficult to do this, yet it is vital for wonderful literature.

Entrepreneurs must also kill their darlings when the darlings show no commercial viability. You have to stop, evaluate and do what must be done.

The idea or company may be precious, but if it will not succeed, kill it as soon as you know this to be true. Then mourn for a very short while, and move on to your next great, commercially viable thing.

Erwin Bruder is president of The Gordian Organization. Reach him at (216) 292-2271 or ebruder@gordian.org.