Ed note: In another life, I’da been a millionaire

August 21, 2011

I doubt I will ever tire of hearing people talk about their ideas for new businesses.

Their enthusiasm pulls me in, and I want to know more. I ask about their lightbulb moment. Where they think they’ll find their customers. How they expect to grow.

As I listen, I think to myself: This just might work.

Then I go through the mental exercise of trying to poke holes. It usually doesn’t take long to find a few.

Oh, well. Next!

I know I’m not so smart to get it right all the time. I’ve heard dumb ideas that have made people very wealthy, and good ideas that have left people poor.

Timing and perseverance have a lot to do with success.

I often think if I just listen to enough pitches, I’ll find an idea that can’t miss. That’s one reason why I am keen to hear from the finalists in the StartRight business plan competition, hosted by Rockville Economic Development Inc. We videotaped their pitches last week. Check them out and vote on your favorite at www.capbiz.biz.

I’ve had my own entrepreneurial ideas over the years. Back when I was a cub reporter, before the days of Google and computerized databases, I recognized a clear pain point among my colleagues. Everyone had a need to keep clips of their stories for reference and future resumes, but no one actually liked to take scissors to paper. So I started a clipping service.

I think I signed up two customers.

Later, I had a brilliant notion for a new retail concept, The Washington Post Store. I imagined a chain of outlets in shopping malls, catering to people who just wanted a place to hang out. The Washington Post Store would be full of comfy chairs and newspapers, a community bulletin board and more. I would manage it myself, a man about town full of gossip and neighborhood good will.

“But what would you sell?” friends would ask.

Umm, subscriptions, I guess. Bob Woodward books. Post T-shirts. And coffee!

I never could gin up much interest. After a while, I felt stupid for being such a dreamer.

Until, of course, Starbucks came along.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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