What Type of Business Should You Start?

You're an entrepreneur overflowing with ideas. How do you narrow down a winning idea?
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
October 07, 2011

As an entrepreneur, your brain is most likely overflowing with ideas for different companies. Maybe you want to open a pet shop,x an organic produce market, a gardening store, a CPA firm—or maybe all of the above.

I spoke with two serial entrepreneurs to get their advice on narrowing down a winning idea.

Stuart Skorman

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, Stuart Skorman was introduced to entrepreneurship at an early age.

“My father started a chain of discount stores called Miracle Mart, which was the inspiration for Sam Walton’s Wal-Mart,” he says.

Skorman had an interest in the entertainment industry and the food industry, so upon graduating from Boston University, he worked as a band manager, then served on the board of Bread & Circus before it became Whole Foods in the mid-90s. From there, he moved out to San Francisco, tapped back into his entertainment roots and founded Reel.com, where he “sold VHS tapes online—it was a video store chain on the Internet,” he says, adding that he sold the company to Hollywood Video in 1998 for $100 million.

After all this, Skorman kept going. In the early 2000s, he founded Elephant Pharmacy, an East-meets-West pharmacy in the Bay Area.

“We had four stores and our tagline was ‘the drug store that prescribes yoga’—it was tremendously popular and eventually bought by CVS,” he says.

Next, he founded Clerkdogs.com, an online movie recommendation system. “We licensed our database to Netflix a year ago,” he notes.

In the middle of all his business ventures, Skorman found time to write Confessions of a Serial Entrepreneur: Why I Can’t Stop Starting Over. These days, he works as a consultant for start up companies in the Bay Area.

Here are his top tips for choosing the right business for you.

Consider the market

Skorman recommends budding entrepreneurs think about the potential validity of a business model before diving in. “You have to be realistic—the world is changing so don’t start a video rental business, for example,” he says.

Look at your experience

“Be realistic about your experience in the industry…what is your ability to raise money, to manage people? Do you have a strong enough passion to start a business?” he says.

Research successful models

Skorman recommends entrepreneurs inspect the inner workings of successful companies. “Amazon started with books and look at where they are now—look at models of companies that worked,” he says.

Melody Biringer

Growing up on a strawberry farm outside of Seattle, Biringer started her entrepreneurial career at home.

“My first business was selling lemonade to strawberry pickers,” she says.

Pretty soon, she was selling fresh strawberries out of roadside stands (she still has that business today). After turning 18, she ran a furniture store for four years before moving to Seattle and starting a fitness company. In 2001, after founding nearly 20 businesses, she found herself missing her girlfriends.

“I wanted to start a business that would get girlfriends together,” she says.

She rented out a hall in Seattle, contacted local businesses and invited local women for a shopping party. The event sold out in two weeks.

“I knew then that I hit a nerve, so I started expanding the party to cities nationwide,” Biringer says.

She named her company CRAVE and turned it into a networking center for women-owned businesses. Today, the company hosts business symposiums and well as publishes print guides to female-run businesses in various cities. Biringer recently published Craving Success: A Startup Junkie’s Path from Passion to Profits.

Here are her top tips for narrowing down a business idea:

Just try it

“So many people talk about wanting to do something and they never do it—I have no patience for them,” she says.

If you have an idea, you can “create a Facebook page tonight, have a business card tomorrow, pretend you are in business and try out the idea to see it will work,” Biringer says.

She knows this from experience. Biringer once wanted to open a cookie business and name it ‘Wow Cookies.’ She planned to sell her cookies online and have them drop shipped to customers. Before actually launching the company, she went to the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and introduced herself as the owner of Wow Cookies.

“I told vendors I was looking for all the cookies in the world that made you say ‘Wow,’” she says. The experience turned into an unfortunate reality check.

“I couldn’t even find three cookies that made me say ‘Wow,’ so I trashed that business idea—but it helped to give it a try,” she says.

Round out your skills

“If you have an x and y, someone else can bring in the z,” she says. Biringer says entrepreneurs can always find people to help them accomplish their goals—be it outsourced help or potential employees.

Keep it simple

Years ago, Biringer started a business selling muffins to grocery stores. The fat-free craze had just started, so she started with a fat-free muffin. Then she added a 97 percent fat-free muffin, then another flavor, and pretty soon she had 30 flavors of muffins. Her employees were working around the clock. Eventually, the company dissolved.

“If I’d just had the best fat-free muffins and made it that simple, I would still be in business today,” she says.