Inside the Mind of Million Dollar Business Ideas

Big Idea
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Million dollar business ideas have no boundaries, age limits, race restrictions, timelines, or economic class. They can occur when you least expect them.

For psychologist Roger Adams, it occurred during a midlife crisis and divorce. For management consultant Mercia Tapping, it happened after a 10-year battle with allergies and the search for a cure. Ruta Fox was a freelancer running out of work when she said "Ah" to her "Aha" moment.

Searching for the million dollar business idea is less a product of business planning and market research and more born from observation and frustration.

The Aha! Effect

It's a flash of quick insight leading to an obvious answer, the proverbial light bulb moment, or eureka event. When it happens, your life will never be the same.

Roger Adams was burnt out and hated his job. On vacation in Huntington Beach, Roger was reminded of "a happier time watching the kids, working at the roller rink, and growing up as a kid around skating. Seeing kids going by on their in lines and skateboards and I thought there has got to be something new out there," reflects Adams.

It was then the proverbial light bulb over the head occurred. "I got this idea for a shoe you could walk and roll on," says Adams. He headed for the garage and started cutting up running shoes and placing wheels on them.

After putting together a few designs, Adams thought to put the wheel in the heel.

Falling several times, Adams realized he had to stagger his feet to balance. "The fall and the getting up the 4th time is when the hair on the back of my head stood up and I had a vision like I never had before. I just knew this thing could be successful," says Adams.

The eureka moment led to the creation of the running shoe with a built in wheel and a new sport called heeling.

Texas-based Heeling Sports Limited has grown rapidly with sales in over 50 countries and is on track to reach over $40 million in 2005. Heelys is now one hot international trend.

Outside Feedback

Sometimes it's the feedback from others that results in a million dollar idea. Mercia Tapping suffered from environmental allergies and attained the necessary knowledge to become allergy free. At a CEO meeting, she noticed other allergy and asthma sufferers and shared her knowledge with the group. They called her a "walking consumer report" and said she should start a business around this.

"The outside world was telling me there was a business opportunity here. I always wanted a health care angle and noticed health was the most important gift. Health, what I had taken for granted, was more important than realized. I never clicked with allergies until my clients told me," said Mercia.

Tapping later founded the Allergybuyersclub.com to provide asthma, allergy, and sinus sufferers with a resource for health information and product purchasing. Rejected by venture capitalists, Tapping's business went on to $10.4 million in sales for 2004.

Unaware of Its Presence

At other times the million dollar idea may show itself to us but we are unaware of its presence.

In the summer of 2000, while searching for a better job, Ruta Fox's friend asked her to find her a diamond pinkie ring. Ruta went out and bought one for her friend and one for herself. Others took notice and Ruta bought more rings. "I was selling rings to girls in their offices and coming home each day saying I've got to find a new way to make a living," states Ruta.

Since she used to be a copywriter, she came up with a name for the ring. Realizing the common denominator was that all the buyers were available and happy and there was no ring on the market that was specifically for them, Fox recalls, "I thought 'Wow this is such a big idea.' I realized I was onto something."

This "Aha" moment led to The Ah Ring, the ring you buy for yourself to wear on your pinkie when you're single. Fox formed DivineDiamonds.com and achieved $1 million in sales during the first year, after a jumpstart from Oprah.

The Simple Truth About Million Dollar Business Ideas

When we hear of million dollar business ideas, we often hear of the proverbial light bulb over the head or eureka moment as the catalyst to creativity. Scientists have recently mapped the part of the brain where the "Aha" effect takes place. In less than .3 milliseconds, the intensified neural activity triggers the proverbial light bulb.

However, million dollar ideas aren't the stuff of MBA problem solving. Science knows the creative spark is a separate cognitive process from the day-to-day mundane problem-solving skills used in business. The brain is searching more for a pattern or solving a puzzle as opposed to linear thinking that often accompanies the problem-solving nature of business.

Contrary to popular myth, the breakthrough idea is not a single eureka event but more a series of known events happening before and after the big "Aha." These events occur as follows: the receptive or preparation stage, the incubation stage, the "Aha" effect, and the verification stage.

The Receptive Stage

Before the eureka moment, the mind must be open to new ideas. At this stage of the creative cycle, it's a matter of generating a partial puzzle. The foundation for the million dollar idea can be a yearning for more or something better.

Current vocation wisdom says don't follow the path of your family but forge your own career. Adam's family was actively involved in the skating business. You could say it was following convention that led to Roger Adams frustration into a career as a clinical psychologist. "I guess the reason I got into psychology at one point I thought I was going to save the world. I did that for 20 plus years and thought there had to be more out there," says Adams. A mid-career crisis and a divorce following a 23-year marriage had set the trigger in Roger's brain to look for something more.

Mercia Tapping wanted something better in her life and went as far as defining what that better way of life would look like. In 1998, Tapping wasn't necessarily looking for the million dollar idea. Mercia's motivation was to find a business without the rigors of travel from management consulting. "I wanted my 2nd marriage to work and I was highly motivated to find a business that would keep me home more," recalls Mercia. The second partial piece of the puzzle was having a business that required building a team instead of the solo practitioner path.

It helps to have a clear distinction of what you want and don't want in forming a new business but sometimes a foggy notion of wanting more can serve the preparation stage as Divine Diamond.com's Fox discovered. For the New York freelance writer, the long hours in front of her computer took its toll on her back. Ruta's doctor urged her to find another way to earn a living. Ruta spent months praying with no specific idea or business in mind.

The Incubation Stage

Once the mind is receptive and prepared to accept new ideas, the subconscious takes over. And the waiting period begins. The incubation period takes it's own time line as Ruta Fox discovered when she waited months for another way to earn a living. The Heely's founder knew something better was out there for the skating world. It just required the laid-back beach house environment to discover it. Tapping's allergy business occurred after her own trials and tribulations as a consumer using and testing various allergy products.

When the mind is prepared and has had a chance to slowly ruminate over the puzzle then the eureka moment can occur. But having a million dollar business idea versus a good idea requires verification.

The Verification Stage

The final and most important connection between a million dollar idea and a regular idea is the response of the marketplace. Even if others see it as a great idea, the consumer must want to buy it.

When the idea is right, the marketplace responds. Heelys were an instant hit with kids. The product took on a life of its own. Adams received a life-changing phone call when his patent attorney (who lived next door to a venture capitalist) asked for a video of the kids using Heelys. Adams received a call from Capital Southwest saying, "My kids just saw your video and the first thing they said was 'Dad you have to buy this company'."

Allergybuyersclub.com founder, Mercia Tapping used a more formal route of verification. "I ran some focus groups for allergy suffers and that told me they wanted a one-stop web source with education and shopping," says Mercia.

The Ah Ring "really resonated with women. It had a great emotional connection with women. Don't wait for a man to buy you a diamond ring, just buy one yourself. So many entrepreneurs try hard banging their head against the wall and it doesn't go. This just shows you when it's right, it's just right," reflects Ruta. As a final verification, the ring ended up in the offices of "O, The Oprah Magazine" whose editors sent one to Oprah who loved the idea so much she included it in Oprah's favorite things.

Forget the Million

A common thread among all these entrepreneurs was realizing once they had the idea, the real work was just beginning. Having a million dollar idea is only part of the equation for business success. "Entrepreneurs ask what makes one successful? Are you passionate enough? Can you persevere enough to make it happen? It demands a certain determination," says Mercia.

Searching for the million dollar idea is a slippery endeavor. The best advice for those wanting a million dollar idea is to forget about the million dollar idea. The money winning idea is born out of a want for something more than money. The money is the means, not the end. For Roger Adams, it was the yearning for the nostalgia of childhood. For Ruta Fox, it was a new career from doctor's orders. Mercia Tapping desired a better way of life. Listen to your heart. The money is only secondary. In the end, the millions may never arrive but at least you pleased your heart's desires.