The Secrets of a Dragon

The 100 Steps to Start-Up Success

By Norah Casey (Coming Soon)

A little teaser…

The book is based on my own 10 steps to success in starting your own business which I have developed and honed over the past 20 years. I have used the 10 steps on many of my television series – Dragons’ Den, The Takeover, Traveller Academy and my new series The Million Euro Start-Up. I have lectured extensively on my 10 steps to success and used them in practical ways with my own business investments and in mentoring over 1000 start-ups since my time in Dragons’ Den. The 10 steps are tried and tested and they work and I have further sub-divided them into 10 elements hence the 100 things you need to know. The 100 things are from generating the big idea to start-up.

1. Innovation is a State of Mind
This chapter is about the ‘Killer Idea’. Entrepreneurs often think they have the next big thing but they rarely do. In this chapter I go through the 10 steps towards making your mind think differently. It’s hard for adults (and easier for children up to circa 18 years of age) to reimagine space and find those rare nuggets that truly break the mould. Finding an idea in clear, blue, uncontested space is the aim of this chapter with practical ways the reader can delve into the creative core of their minds so that they really do come up with a ground-breaking idea.

2. Scanning the Horizon
Once they have the idea it’s time to find the competition and they are not always where you expect to find them. Taking to the streets, the phone and the web the budding entrepreneur needs to research existing competitors. They need to glean as much as they can about who they’re up against – what their unique selling proposition is, what price points do they sell at, who are their suppliers, how big is the market. But this chapter will also deal with the hidden and as yet unknown competition.

3. Only Customers Make Ideas Great
So they have the great idea and they know who they’re up against, now is the time to ask the customer what they really want. So many entrepreneurs skip this stage and think they know the answer already or worse they test the idea on family and friends who of course will give them a biased answer. There is no avoiding it – you have to identify the target market for the product or service and get out there and ask them what they want. There are various approaches to this and I have lots of real life examples of business start-ups who used everything from mass surveys to simple clipboard research at the school gate. This chapter is all about finding the potential customer and testing the big idea before going any further

4. Find the Gap
This chapter is about finding the niche for the new product or service. For instance I helped one entrepreneur who thought he had a great idea. He wanted to import jewellery using semi-precious stones and sell it online and was convinced he was the first with the plan. After scanning the horizon and checking out the competition he found that lots of online sites offer the same thing – it’s a crowded space. However when he did his market research he found two gaps – women who wanted to compete with their flashier (and richer) friends who sported large diamond rings and women who owned large diamonds and wanted replicas using man-made diamonds so they could lock the real ones in the safe. So he created a man-made diamond business offering off the shelf and bespoke design services. He found the gap. And there is always a gap so this chapter helps the budding entrepreneur to find it.

5. Adapt to Survive
Business survival depends on the entrepreneur’s ability to adapt his or her thinking. While it’s good to have strong self-belief at this stage its far more important to be flexible and open to the possibility that you need to change your thinking – either in terms of the product, the service, the target market or even to go back to the beginning. I meet people all the time who have been flogging a business idea for two years or more and can’t understand why someone won’t fund it. Usually it’s because they are not listening and have become so attached to their ‘baby’ that they can’t let go. I am usually the first to tell them the bad news. If it’s not right you need to fix it and open your mind to taking a fresh approach. It’s a skill that all business survivors and thrivers have – the ability to constantly adapt their thinking and proposition depending on the prevailing winds of the market, the economy and the competition.

6. The BIG Test
In start-up terms this goes under the banner of ‘proof of concept’. You have the idea and you know what customers want but the real test is to see if you can produce your product or service at the right cost base and sell it at the right price point and make a margin. If a budding barista can make a cent selling one coffee to a customer in his local town he can replicate that nationwide. Sounds easy…but so many start-ups do not test the concept and plough on with big orders taking unnecessary risks. In Dragons’ Den not a day went by without someone pitching for investment because they had a warehouse full of stock that they couldn’t shift. They hadn’t tested the product or service and now they were out of money and not that attractive to an investor. This chapter offers practical advice on how to test the product.

7. If you Fail – Fail Fast
I grew up in business terms in the boardrooms of London and my old Chairman (no longer with us) drilled it into me that the biggest mistake was not failing but in not owning up to it fast enough. It was a good lesson because I have make plenty of mistakes in my time and I always fail fast. Draw a line under it, learn from it and move on. At this stage on the start-up journey a lot of ideas fail. Proof of concept is there for a reason and if you cannot produce the product or service at a profit you have to let it go even if you have put in a tremendous amount of hard work and probably spent some hard earned cash. The key message in this chapter it – fail fast, don’t linger – if you were capable of coming up with one great idea you have many more inside you. I have lots of examples of successful entrepreneurs who failed first time round – and most wish they had failed faster.

8. All the Ps – Product, Price, Promotion & Plan
This is the homework stage – the unavoidable long hours of finding the right suppliers, honing the product, getting the price point right and making a plan to launch it. It involves all of the architect necessary to get the idea off the ground. This phase is the pre-curser to the business strategy – it’s the nuts and bolts of the business and feeds into the financial plan (or P&L).

9. Strategise at Speed
The key to this phase is to take the start-up idea and start to work on how it will develop and expand in the following years. To be investment ready you need to have a vision for the business and you need to inspire funders to get on board with you. If you have an idea for a unique retail offering on the high street then how are you going to grow that business – by opening other retail spaces in other towns or moving to online over time? Strategy is about constantly reappraising and future proofing your business – it is not a static tome that is done once and left to gather dust in a drawer over the three year start-up period.

10. Fund It, Fold It or Flog It
Inevitably the time comes when you have to find investment and decide how you are going to fund the growth of the business. Many early start-ups rely on the three Fs – friends, family and fools. And that’s fine if they have explored other options and there is no alternative because in my experience relying on the Three Fs spells disaster – money with emotional attachment is not clean money. There are other options and this important chapter will explore the pros and cons of each – banks, business angels, government support, and venture capital investment. In seeking funding the entrepreneur must also decide what he wants from the business – does he want to grow it and sell it on, find partners in the future or grow slowly over a longer period and pass on to the next generation. The answer to these critical questions determine the funding and at what stage the business needs to grow and expand. This chapter will also deal with the practical issue of business plans and facing the reality of not getting funding.

Norah Casey, August 2015

Norah Casey