Last December, I flew to India to volunteer at an HIV/AIDS orphanage. I had found the opportunity through a Google search and remembered thinking to myself when I landed in Delhi “I hope someone is here to pick me up at the airport”. I was after all by myself in a new country and had spent $2,000 for my trip. Despite the initial sense of uncertainty, I ended up meeting some amazing friends and spending time with the most courageous group of children I had ever met. I returned to Los Angeles forever changed by that experience.
When I came home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the lack of information and high cost associated with my volunteer trip. A couple weeks later, the idea of a website to help people find and fund their volunteer trips abroad dawned on me. The site would feature reviews of volunteer programs written by actual volunteers and a crowdfunding platform to help people raise donations for their trips abroad. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the first thing about web design, internet startups, or social enterprise. However, I thought about Charles Lee and our time together at our church. At the time, I didn’t fully understand the impacts his talks about Charity Water, Invisible Children, and flash mobs would have on me, but they ended up serving as examples of successful social enterprises.
I remember being incredibly nervous about reaching out to Charles about my idea- it was raw, unformed, untested – I was really worried he would tell me it was a bad idea or worse, he would never write back. Luckily, for me, Charles was close to releasing his book “Good Idea. Now What?” and he suggested I read it to develop my idea. Nearly nine months later, my idea (Volunteer Forever) is now live and already helping volunteers to find and fund their volunteer trips abroad. I’d like to share five critical insights from “Good Idea. Now What?” that helped make Volunteer Forever a reality.
1) Ideas without implementation are worthless.
Volunteer Forever wasn’t my first idea, but it is the first idea that I have earnestly sought to mature and develop. I’ve had good ideas before, but never did anything with them. These ideas simply remained my thoughts, fantasies, things to daydream about, and the subject of conversations with friends. “Good Idea. Now What?” helped me distinguish an “Idea Lover” from an “Idea Maker”. I had always been the former, but wasn’t sure how to be an “Idea Maker”- someone who can implement their ideas and see them realized.
2) There is a structured process for nurturing ideas into a business.
Once the initial joy and exuberance of my idea for Volunteer Forever wore off, I was faced with the stark reality of implementation. Grandiose visions of bridging the gap between do-gooders and those who need help soon gave way to more pedestrian (but equally important) questions of how I would reach my customers, how I would raise funding, and how I would build my platform. The gulf between idea and implementation seemed infinitely wide with no bridge in sight.
In “Good Idea. Now What?” I read about several real-life examples of idea-makers who successfully implemented their ideas. These examples were great opportunities for reflection and provided nuggets of insights to plot the next steps. Sometimes these insights would simply represent inch stones in the grand plan(e.g., email a contact), but at least the plan to implementation was starting to take form.
3) Start taking action now.
Though “Good Idea. Now What?” helped formulate some of the next steps for implementing Volunteer Forever, there was still an enormous amount of uncertainty with achieving my long-term goal. To address this, Charles’s book emphasizes the importance of taking action and moving closer to your goal.
My first significant action was to enroll in the Duke University Startup Challenge. As part of the Startup Challenge, I had to create a business plan that would have to address market need, revenue sources, customers, competitors, and required capital for my company, Volunteer Forever. Next, a panel of judges and members of the Duke University community would evaluate my idea and provide feedback. My participation was a giant step for me considering just the month prior I was hesitant about e-mailing Charles about my idea! I ended up using this business plan to successfully apply for a Small Business Administration loan to fund the development of my website.
4) It’s going to take a lot of work.
When the idea for Volunteer Forever first streamed through my consciousness, I could have never imagined the amount of work it would take to turn my idea into reality. Working full-time while launching a startup takes an incredible amount of work; 15-16 hour days are now the norm and weekends have become two additional working days in the week (I’m blessed to have a very supportive and understanding significant other).
In “Good Idea. Now What?”, Charles’s personal story of building his boot-strapped company between the hours of 10 PM and 3 AM has really served as a source of inspiration for me. It really hit home that turning Volunteer Forever into reality would require an enormous commitment of time and energy. Yet his story also served as a key decision point for me: “Am I willing to push myself to my absolute limits for the next couple of years to see my idea brought to the world ?” The answer was yes and I haven’t looked back since then.
5) You don’t have to do it alone.
I’m normally a very private person, so collaborating is something I have to make an active effort to do. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand the benefits of team work and forming partnerships- it just takes some extra effort and intention on my part.
I’m actually only able to say that last sentence due to the insights I gleaned from “Good Idea. Now What?”. Charles devotes an entire part of his book to collaborating (working together toward a common goal) and debunks several myths associated with collaboration. Two of the biggest myths he debunks are that collaboration just happens and that collaboration is intuitive for everyone. Suddenly, the idea of collaboration no longer represented a weakness for me- it was now another thing that I could work to improve.
That insight has made it possible for me to find co-founders with similar visions about volunteering abroad to join my team; find volunteer organizations and companies to partner with to leverage our respective strengths; and even to reach out to competitors to tackle industry-wide issues.
Today, Volunteer Forever has been live in beta mode for a little over two weeks. We’ve already partnered with over 75 organizations including Kiva (named by Fortune as the planet’s hottest non-profit) to make it easier to volunteer abroad. I have no idea what lies ahead, but I can honestly say I am living my dream. For me, taking my idea for Volunteer Forever and turning it into a company with a product that is used around the world represents a quantum leap in my personal development and I can honestly say that “Good Idea. Now What?” was a very important resource in the process.