Put a bullet in it

I am working on an engagement to develop a company which has an elegant solution to a perceived market need. The solution is a head-slapper — once you hear it, you slap yourself on the forehead and say, “Of course!”

The founders of this company are experienced businessmen, and they have all seen the supposed next great thing and next killer app. So instead of hyping themselves or presenting their solution as a perfect answer, they are trying to kill their darling.

They have shown their solution to a limited number of people with specific expertise. They then asked these people to put a bullet in it. They are searching for the fatal flaw now, not later.

They know most start-ups do not succeed. Their thinking is that if it is going to die, let it die before significant time and money have been invested.

Their approach to market research is not to show how great the demand is but to ask if there really is a demand. They ask technologists to find the weaknesses that cannot be resolved in a commercial iteration of their prototype. They asked intellectual property attorneys to find whose patents they might be infringing upon.

I don’t know if someone will put a bullet in this effort. I do know that this approach is honest, candid and brutal.

It’s great to be skeptical of your own claims, and if no one can put a bullet in it now, the odds of success later are greatly increased. This approach takes courage and the willingness to find out that what you love. Your darling may be terrific, but flawed or late to the party.

Something that can be corrected is not a flaw — it is a solvable issue. Flawed means a fatal flaw that no amount of work can fix, no matter how much you want to fix it.

Besides being totally candid with potential capital sources, you must be candid with yourself, for it is your time, effort and sometimes tears that are at stake.

Put a bullet into it early if at all possible, then go on to your next great thing. It’s a great approach for early stage companies. Erwin Bruder ([email protected]) is chief economist & managing director of emerging enterprises at Prim Capital Corp. Reach him at (216) 830-1111, ext. 2220.