THE BLOG
08/03/2015 04:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How a Young Entrepreneur Turned Her Strange Idea Into a Thriving Business

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It sounds crazy.

Start your first business at 24, straight out of college, alone in a foreign country, where you can't even speak your native language. And do it in a huge city, with no connections.

Intimidating, right? But it's precisely what successful entrepreneur Irina Alionte did. As founder of several successful businesses, reaching six figures annually in revenue, she speaks from experience.

While still at university in the UK, she made an observation: girls on campus didn't give it their all in classes at the gym. Why? Scary environment: lights on, mirrors everywhere, and everyone judges you.

She compared this with a nightclub:

"Why is it that in the nightclub they can be themselves and burn calories that are at a whole different level, but at the actual class where they were supposed to get their body moving, they don't?"

So, she thought, why not combine the two? She called it Club Cardio.

"So I thought have a motivating instructor on the stage, engaging the crowd from a microphone. The lights are low, there's a DJ...a huge dance floor where people can just let go, express themselves and burn calories."

It wasn't easy. Before she started, Alionte faced plenty of opposition. Her friends thought she was out of her mind. Fear and doubt crept in.

Turn fear around

"I felt like the more people were against me, the more I wanted to prove them wrong. You know, just watch me--it'll be awesome."

Not about to let fear paralyze her, she turned it on its head.

"So I said to myself: to eliminate all these fears and doubts, how can I prove this works? How can I test this?"

She arranged a pilot event on campus and got 50 girls to test the concept. Results? Super encouraging. People loved the idea.

Based on a gut feeling, she moved to London to develop Club Cardio. She reached out to Ketan Makwana of the Rockstar Mentoring Group, based in the UK. What he told her resonates to this day:

"Irina, you are no longer alone. You have us now."

She went from a strange idea and no connections, to having a proof-of-concept in hand, with solid mentorship on top.

You see the lesson here? When people oppose you, don't take it personally. Could be a good sign.

Even better: this kind of tenacity can open doors for you at any level.

When Victor Hwang, cofounder of venture firm T2VC and tech company Liquidity Nanotech, talked to scientists about a promising new water purification technology, it was daunting. Develop some obscure piece of science and bring it to a difficult market? Crazy. But he and his team saw the potential, and so they persisted. And now, nine gruelling years later? Liquidity has refined the technology and completed a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. When applied to the right opportunities, tenacity pays off, big time.

And so it did for Alionte: Club Cardio did work and become awesome. Media exposure, expansion to other universities, nightclubs in London, a deal with Luminar--the largest nightclub group in the UK--you name it. Did she prove her skeptics wrong? Certainly. You can't argue with success. But how did she pull this off?

She gave herself a huge advantage: an understanding of her ideal customer.

Discover your ideal customer

She spent a ton of effort to figure out her customers. Values. Pain points. Influences. Anything to help understand them as people.

And after Club Cardio, she and her partner applied this everywhere. Started consulting for lifestyle coaches--which made six figures within three months. Went on to create a Bucharest-based event for entrepreneurs and an empowerment center for women--both strong successes.

"Whenever we start a new business now, we always go through the process of having this ideal customer profile in mind. We write about three or four pages about that person and try to really understand them and the situation they're in, their frustrations and even what influences they have, like the books the read and such."

"And then we just go out into the market and validate this person is indeed how we pictured them, if we need more certainty on that."

Waste of time? Better think again. Everything you do with your customer depends on communication. The better you understand them, the more you will connect.

"Then all your marketing communication is done. You just use the pieces of information from that ideal customer profile and then the ad, the email, all the copywriting, will be addressed to that avatar, to that specific type of client."

She mentions an avatar. What does that mean? It's your ideal customer--the kind of person you care most about helping. Of course, other customers may also want what you have. So what do you say to them? Should you do business with just anyone who says yes?

Absolutely not.

Your biggest pitfall? Saying yes to everybody

Alionte understood this quickly in her businesses. As an entrepreneur, you can't serve everyone, because doing so comes at the expense of your avatar, your niche.

"Most entrepreneurs think if they refuse certain clients, they leave money on the table. This is actually a myth. The more you stand for your niche, the more you'll attract--like a magnet--people of the sort you want to attract. Which is your ideal client, who's an easy win and a person you're passionate about helping."

Notice the vital point at the end: you must have passion for these people. Why? Because it propels you above the playing field, and creates an inexhaustible well of motivation for you. You gain a long-term strategic advantage over those just in it for the money.

And if you're not passionate, your customers can tell. So why should they care when you speak to them?

Ask yourself: is your heart on fire at the thought of helping them? To transform their lives? If not, perhaps it's time to step back and find your avatar.

Alionte did--and success flowed her way.

Hi, I'm Harry, a fellow entrepreneur. Keen to help you discover ideas that work. Let's connect.