Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

Why my delicious little gadget is staying a secret

So what is it, this thing, this gimmick, this idea? What actually is it that's going to sell 750,000 units round the world and make a company worth millions?

I'm not going to tell you. It's brilliant, yes, I can safely say that. It's original. It's cute. It's not quite newsworthy but it'll attract a lot of free editorial. It's not because I think you'll steal the idea and develop it yourself but because I fear I'll lose your attention if I do. The idea is in some ways the least interesting part of the process. And the enormous, grinding effort and spirit that goes into the superfluous little thing is completely disproportionate to its virtue.

Ideas are easy, for those of us who have ideas. I have them all the time. In the last two weeks I've considered the merits of a tiger farm, of a vast prosthetic, puppet-style phallus for male strippers, and a parliamentary newspaper. I'm proceeding with one of these as well. But that's not this. No, my gimmick, my novelty, my delicious little gadget... I'll tell you what it is after it's launched and gone to product heaven or product hell.

The idea begins life in a vulnerable form. You tell people and they say one of two things. 1) "If it's such a good idea, why hasn't someone done it already?" And 2) "That's a brilliant idea, it's already being done."

For some reason these are disabling objections. The answers are: 1) "Because nobody's thought of it before." 2) "Aha! That shows there's a market for it!" Actually the real answer is 1) "Shut up."

When the idea is a collection of conversations it is nothing but an entertainment. It is a thought experiment. At every stage its level of reality increases so dramatically that we the originators think it's a going concern. We write a cash flow and it looks so persuasive we daren't show it to investors without wearing heavy gloves. We write a business plan and we live it, like a novelist. Fantasy becomes reality for us - it has to otherwise we'd never proceed. We have to believe the dream. Well, someone has to.

The first and most difficult thing to do is to confront real life, to engage in the intransigent realities of the material world. To pick up the phone and ring the tradesman, the craftsman, the artisan who is going to make the model. That is bringing the whole shimmering world of possibility down into the dumb, mundane reality of the model, or the dummy, or the prototype. You have to take your dream, your holographic magic and present it to the one who will be entrusted to bring it into the world of things. This first call will spawn an empire of commercial activity and allow you, ultimately, to solve the problem of Africa. And they say: "I'm sorry, he's not at his desk, can I ask what it's regarding?"