In 2011, my friend Kostas and I saw an opportunity. If we developed a hyper-accurate keyboard app — one that enabled users to type without looking at the screen — we could change the way people interacted with mobile technology.
We could eliminate the apologetic email signatures, stop walking into things while texting, and truly ditch our laptops. It would break down barriers to the "Internet of Things."
Everyone said it couldn't be done, but that was only because no one had done it. Where others saw something impossible, Kostas and I saw an opportunity to be first in a space with huge potential for growth.
Counter the "it'll never work" objections
When your ideas are ambitious, the tech industry will inevitably try to make you quit.
One of the first people to shoot us down was an angel investor. We had barely finished pitching when he rejected us outright. A touchpad keyboard for the blind wasn't feasible, he said. Apple's iOS didn't allow real integration of third-party keyboards; without the iPhone, the app could never truly be successful.
I countered both objections. Within minutes of our departure, he emailed our mutual contact, complaining that we were "strong-headed" and "ill-informed." This was a preview of the most common objection we faced: "It's never been done before."
Too many people mistake things that haven't been done for things that can't be done. Real opportunities come from ideas that haven't yet been acted upon.
The benefits of attempting something new
Creating an opportunity from something new provides a competitive advantage in the form of:
Brand awareness: Attempting the impossible generates attention. People want to support innovation, and they'll spread the word for you.
Access to untapped markets: If your product fulfills an unmet need, you'll have few competitors and many eager customers. Even if you're small, you can corner the market with a first-mover advantage.
Future potential: By opening the door to multiple opportunities, you're maximizing your capacity to succeed.
Satisfaction and recruitment: Not only does innovation bolster morale, but it also attracts top talent.What You Need When Attempting the "Impossible"Had we listened to our critics, we would have never started. But when developing a revolutionary new product, it's not the critics who matter — it's your user base. You need a devoted group of early users who can offer feedback and help improve your product.
During development, I learned that the iPhone's accessibility options made it popular with blind users, so we brought our prototype to the blind community. Their skepticism quickly gave way to excitement, and for some, the experience was so overwhelming that they wept.
The prototype was basic. But suddenly we had thousands of real users invested in the growth of the product. Their feedback helped each version evolve by leaps and bounds.
Once you have your passionate early users, you also need to find a way to turn perceived barriers into opportunities. When we released a public beta of our app on iOS, many people thought we were crazy due to Apple's restrictions on third-party keyboards. But in February, we opened our API to any developer who wanted to use it, transforming the restriction into an opportunity for growth.
Never be afraid to do things differently
This historical iOS barrier was enough for plenty of people to reject our idea altogether. But because we pursued the opportunity, we are now celebrating 1 million downloads.
Many entrepreneurs fail because they're afraid to do things differently. But learning to create opportunity is a skill like any other. You can become better by networking, keeping an ear to the ground, and positioning yourself to capitalize on the shifting market. It's also important to devote several hours a week to trying things that are new, crazy and potentially groundbreaking.
If you ignore opportunity, it will vanish. But when you embrace it, there will always be more.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.