Conceiving new business ventures is not as mysterious and elusive as most wannabe entrepreneurs believe. You don’t have to create a novel industry or learn a new skill. In fact, one of the easiest ways to uncover business opportunities is to leverage what you already know.
Over the years, I’ve become a firm believer in applying existing knowledge to new solutions. Taking this approach, I have personally launched successful businesses based not on pie-in-the-sky ideas, but on solving problems I recognized.
After working for more than a decade with companies like Dell and Microsoft, I knew a lot about technology. But, it wasn’t until I starting looking around and asking questions that I was able to uncover profitable business opportunities that turned into two start-up ventures.
For example, in 2004 I was working for Microsoft and selling software solutions that allowed schools to update student’s grades and attendance on a real-time basis. As my sales partner and I were waiting in line at a toll booth in Houston, we discussed how a similar solution could be applied to rental cars and toll tags. Why couldn’t data from toll tag transactions be transferred on a real-time basis to rental car locations to allow travelers to use the toll tag express lane?
That year, I made it my mission to answer this question for myself, and it became the basis for my first start-up company, Rent A Toll. Today, this company is thriving with 14 patents pending and national contracts with Thrifty Car Rental and Dollar Rent-A-Car. This successful company never would have existed if I hadn’t applied what I already knew to develop a solution to a common problem – sitting in line and digging for change to pay a toll while in a rental car.
In case you’re still questioning the effectiveness of my “apply what you know to new solutions” philosophy, I’ll give you another example.
In 2006, a friend and I were discussing the high cost of childcare. I could recall a time when I was paying more for preschool tuition for my two children than I was for my mortgage. Clearly, other families were having the same dilemma or settling for less-than-ideal childcare. After a little research, I uncovered that while organizations like Sallie Mae had created college education loans, no one was filling the gap for early childhood education. It was a $40 billion dollar untapped market.
After studying the financial support options college students had, we applied what we learned to the early education market. In 2007, I launched a company that connects consumers with financial institutions for childcare loans, while helping them sort through their options and providing the most cost-effective alternatives.
The next time you’re confronted with a problem, take a minute to ask what the solution might be. You might be surprised at how much of what you know can be applied to coming up with that answer. And, who knows? It might be the basis for your next business venture.
Ben Robinson is a serial entrepreneur. His latest startup is Dallas-based I Pay Childcare. The company’s Educate EarlyTM loan offers both secured and unsecured loan products at lower interest rates than many consumer credit cards. The program also offers significant benefits to childcare centers and preschools by ensuring prompt tuition payments and reducing enrollment turnover. For more information, visit www.ipaychildcare.com or call 1.866.543.7427