So You Think You Can Dance (As an Entrepreneur)

Entrepreneurs seem to have a gift. The ones that succeed have ideas that make you think, "Of course that worked! Why hasn't it been done before?" And you don't hear a lot about the failures. They're brushed under the carpet as the entrepreneur licks their wounds and starts on something new.

But what about the startup in progress? What are the main considerations entrepreneurs go through to breathe life into their business?

To understand more, I connected with Kirk Keel and Matt Hornbuckle, the co-founders of Stantt, a company that uses 3D scanning technology to distinguish the nuances between hundreds of unique body types and manufacture shirts that fit consumers perfectly.

Kirk and Matt shared their top strategies for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Know your industry, or ensure you have a unique perspective.
Matt and Kirk admittedly have limited experience working in the fashion industry. But they understood a fundamental problem in men's fashion -- only about 15 percent of men are able to find shirts that perfectly fit their body without tailoring.

They developed a hypothesis and tested it to ensure it was unique. They asked a lot of questions to analyze every aspect of the industry and the consumer's shopping experience. They challenged major paradigms in men's fashion -- the way sizes are designed, the way shirts are manufactured, the way men shop for the right size. They turned a weakness (limited fashion experience) into a strength.

Seek advice.
It seems counterintuitive. You want to protect your idea, and you don't want others to copy it. Have candid discussions with people you trust. Your contacts can provide unique perspectives, and are unlikely to copy you.

The more feedback you receive, the better your idea will become which also increases your likelihood of success. Additionally, your contacts may suggest more connections for you once they know what you're trying to accomplish.

Be flexible.
Kirk and Matt knew that many guys experience a common problem. With so many body types, it's not easy to group men into Small, Medium, Large or Extra-Large. So, it's hard to find a shirt that fits perfectly.

To address the problem, Stantt originally intended to provide more than 100 size options. But when they sought feedback, they were commonly told that this would provide too many supply chain issues for initial production efforts. It will be feasible to eventually increase the sizing options, but it could be detrimental to try to stock so many options at first. Kirk and Matt listened and pared down to 50 sizes, and can still meet the needs of more than 95 percent of male consumers.

Know your consumers and how you can make their lives better.
Matt and Kirk could have tried to design the perfect shirt based on their own experiences. That would have failed. Instead, they spoke with hundreds of consumers and received unique perspectives they wouldn't have otherwise discovered. Call it a "needs assessment" or "empathy research". Either way, you're trying to learn how you can make your consumers' lives better.

Prioritize and focus, test your assumptions, and execute.
Matt and Kirk started with a ton of ideas for the business. They prioritized the list based on three questions:

(1) Has anyone done this before? (Is the idea real and unique?)
(2) Does the idea truly solve an unmet need? (Is it worth it?)
(3) Will consumers pay for this? (Is this viable?)

Next, they chose the idea that scored well against those questions. They could have tried to tackle the entire fashion industry (pants, women's fashion, kid/teen fashion, etc). Instead, they focused on a subset of the fashion industry -- men's shirts.

In The Lean Startup, Eric Reis suggests creating a minimum viable product for your idea and testing it in a low-risk environment before scaling it. Matt and Kirk are using Kickstarter to test their theory that men will pay for shirts that fit them perfectly.

While considering entrepreneurial ideas, here are two sites with incredible (and free) resources:

-- Harvard's entrepreneurship site
-- Syracuse University's program "Boots to Business" (an entrepreneurship course for veterans, but the resources are for everyone)