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How to Turn a Passion Project into a Viable Business

Kris Finstad_ContentChecked

At the age of 35, I had an epiphany. After health issues forced me to take time off from my fulfilling and lucrative career in real estate, I realized that life was full of uncertainty (yes, as cliché as that may sound) and that I had to step back from my work and focus on what mattered – my family.

One evening while I was at home recovering, I happily volunteered to prepare dinner for my daughter and her friend (cooking had become a new hobby and served as great rehabilitation), who suffered severe food allergies. As any father would, I diligently scoured each nutrition label and cross-referenced them against a 10-page list of ingredients the friend must avoid, that was provided by the girl’s parents. I was confident the meal I prepared was suitable.

After sending my daughter’s friend to the emergency room, I sat in the hospital lobby combing through every detail of that evening, thinking there had to be a better way for parents and average consumers to decipher food labels. From that moment on, I spent the following nine months researching the food and allergy industry and developing an application to aid in solving this problem. Launched in the U.S. in 2015, I developed ContentChecked for the countless families that suffer from potentially fatal food allergies. Now, there are more than 2 million users on the platform, and 66% of the users use the app on a regular basis.

Here’s how I was able to start and grow my own business:

A well-defined business strategy and forecast of the future

Know your industry. As a real estate investor, I knew very little about the food allergy and dietary world, but I spent nearly a year immersed in this market, getting to know what competitors already existed, my target audience, and my own strengths and weaknesses as a businessman. I learned that food allergy reactions account for nearly 30,000 emergency hospital visits each year and an estimated 150-200 people die from anaphylaxis, according to FARE. There was a need for a tool to aid this particular audience and current products on the market were unreliable and inaccurate. After conducting enough research and evaluation of a particular industry, an understanding of what is lacking on the market or what can be improved will become clear. You can’t build a market out of a one-time concept, it needs to have consistency.

For my business in particular, the problem of food allergies is a recurring one, with no cure but only prevention. My business idea was to prevent emergency room visits for the nearly 15 million Americans that suffer from food allergies. At the most basic explanation, any business idea or concept should become integral to a user’s life in this industry.

Lastly, try to forecast the next big innovation in your industry. This will help you to see the larger picture and let your business evolve. The market is always changing – new technology, new discoveries and being able to anticipate change will allow your business to adapt and stay prosperous.

Round up a knowledgeable and dedicated team

You can’t run a business alone. Every businessperson has his strengths and weaknesses and needs a team that will complement each. First, start with a management team and staff that you trust and are experts in each of their respective fields. This will allow you to step away from micromanaging and focus on the big picture. This helps with productivity and to maintain a balanced workload. Rounding up a dedicated team may seem challenging and it can certainly take time, but if you exert stellar management skills – i.e. setting internal goals for staff each day and clearly defining expectations – you’ll be able to observe staff that is dedicated and enthusiastic. This will help weed out the staff that isn’t a fit or isn’t dedicated to your vision.

Hiring talent who bring in skills that you don’t possess is also extremely important – this allows companies to think outside the box and bring in multiple perspectives that are different from your own. The truth is that referral basis is the most proven way to find the right employees who know what they’re doing and are close to the business. If you’re outsourcing talent, make sure to fly them into your headquarters every few months and use Skype to create a more familial bond.

Landing Investment – Perfecting Your Pitch

Target firms that are already aligned with what your company does and approach them first. It sounds so simple, but good ideas and good businesses will stand out and get funded. Show investors that you have a solid plan and smart team backing it up. That’s the first part; the second part is perfecting your pitch.

This year, VC’s have had a tight grip of funding, which brings more competition to lock down those dollars. When pitching investors, show that you are conservative with your capital and how your business will be profitable early on. The bottom line for entrepreneurs who have started a passion project and want to turn it into a viable business – it must be profitable. The most important part of the pitch for venture capitalists is a company’s team and financials, so make sure you are very thoughtful during this portion. For early companies, it may not make sense to include financials since it might be too early on to include accurate projections – there are a portion of these companies that do get funded, but it’s a much smaller percentage.

Overall, these three components are key. It may seem like a long road ahead when launching a new business, but charting a clear course and hiring a team for support can set you up for success.

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