The light bulb moment: 5 LA founders reveal when they knew their idea would work

February 9, 2017

An idea is only the beginning. A business concept takes a long time to develop, but that light bulb moment can come in a flash. For these five founders, the excitement of discovering a potential solution to a problem never dissipated, and their companies are thriving because of it.

 

Zwift co-founders Scott Barger and Eric Min were living in London when Min approached Barger with an idea.

Where did the idea for Zwift come from?

Eric, our CEO, and I were living in London. It was actually his idea as it solved a real pain point for him. Raising three very active kids in an urban environment where the weather didn’t always cooperate meant he didn’t have much opportunity to enjoy the sport we love, cycling. I had the luxury of being able to ride outdoors more freely and was a little skeptical at first about how compelling we could make an indoor experience. That all changed when we flew out to LA to meet and test ride the "hobby project" that Jon, the genius behind Zwift and one our four co-founders, had been working on.

How long did it take you to act on the idea?

We spent a few months researching the idea. That “lightbulb moment” didn’t really come until we met Jon in early-January 2014. Then things moved really fast. It was then that we knew it could be done, but that we had also found the mastermind that could do it.

Eric convinced Jon to quit his job and join us two weeks later, and he persuaded me to move from London to LA to join him. We set up Zwift on January 15th and haven't looked back since.

What did friends and family say when you first told them about it?

Some thought it was cool, and some didn’t get it. Some got it, but questioned the market size. Zwift really captured the imagination of the first group. My parents fell into the last group, suggesting that I consider another job offer I had on the table.

Was there ever a moment where you doubted the idea could actually work?

Never. Sure, there’ve been plenty of nerve-racking moments — like wondering if the tech would work hours before our launch event, or riding out our first summer season wondering about the impact of seasonality on our membership — but you have to trust in your ability to get through the unknown challenges and always believe.   

What advice would you give to someone who believed they had a novel business idea?

Act on it! Be resourceful and talk to as many people that will listen. You’ll gain valuable market intel, meet potential future partners and probably discover use cases that never occurred to you, all while getting excellent practice to perfect your pitch. 

Anyone can come up with a great idea. Few actually take the risk to execute. If you’re really afraid someone will poach your idea and beat you to market, then odds are it's not such a great idea. Or you may find out in talking to people that someone is already doing it.

 

Impact Health co-founders Christine Carrillo and Helen Lee, veterans of the healthcare industry, were at a dinner party one night when a mutual friend approached them with a novel question regarding their industry. The problem was, answering the question required much more research than it should have, and the idea for their startup was born. 

Where were you when you had the initial idea for Impact Health?

We were at a dinner party in LA when a friend, who was a film director, approached us and asked us why his healthcare plan cost so much, but didn't cover any of his family's doctors and medications. He had an awesome health plan on paper through the Producer’s Guild, but it still did not cover what he needed. After more digging, we realized he was on the wrong plan for his healthcare usage and would not have been able to figure that out without weeks of research and analysis.

How long did it take you to act on the idea?

We took a Joan of Arc approach to it when we launched the first version of Impact Health. We just wanted to help people buying insurance so they would not get taken advantage of. We thought we were doing a public service. There was no desire at first to start a new company. We were already running a very successful business at the time. About five months after the initial launch, we were thoroughly obsessed with the idea of building Impact Health into a massive company that could help millions of Americans.

What did friends and family say when you first told them about it?

We continue to get the same reaction now that we did when we first told friends about the idea. There’s a definite feeling of, “thank goodness someone is trying to fix this, because it’s awful.

Was there ever a moment where you doubted the idea could actually work?

Never. Health insurance is something that is absolutely needed by all Americans. We don't have a healthcare system, but rather a sick care system, and our health insurance is in a place of constant volatility. We knew that if we wanted to change our system, we needed to be advocates and experts alike for each and every American.

What advice would you give to someone who believed they had a novel business idea?

My advice would be to give it your absolute all. Find various unfair advantages, iterate often and play to win big.  

 

Omaze co-founders Matt Pohlson and Ryan Cummins attended a charity event hosted by Lakers legend Magic Johnson and couldn't have been more excited. The opportunity to bid on the opportunity to interact with one of the greatest basketball players of all time was quite the thrill for the two friends, but it quickly became apparent they would not be able to afford to do so. On the drive back, they started to discuss the flaws in such events, and according to Pohlson, as soon as they returned home, the duo began working on the plan for their new company.

Where were you when you had the initial idea for Omaze?

We were at a benefit for the Boys & Girls Club of America hosted by Magic Johnson. He was our childhood hero, so we were pumped that they were auctioning off the chance to join him courtside at a Lakers game and then get dinner after. But as broke college students at the time, we watched helplessly as the bidding reached $15,000. On the drive home, we wondered — why should life's most amazing experiences only go to the rich? And how could such a priceless experience only raise $15,000 for a great cause? 

How long before that "lightbulb moment" and when you actually started building the company?

We started the moment we drove home from that Magic Johnson experience. We were both still in school and turned all our classes into independent studies, so we could focus exclusively on Omaze.

What did friends and family say when you first told them about it?

They responded favorably. There aren't many filmmakers that go to business school and think everyone would see their idea favorably given, even with our background and passion for storytelling. 

Was there ever a moment where you doubted the idea could actually work?

Yes, a lot of moments. The first six months it didn't work at all. Our first experience only raised $780, and the ones after that weren't much better. We even lost team members in those early days because they thought it would never work. But we kept the faith. 

What advice would you give to someone who believed they had a novel business idea?

Take comfort in the idea that no one knows what they are doing. All of my friends who have built successful businesses were learning on the job. When we hear stories of successful companies told in reverse, it always seems like it followed such a well-planned path, but that's never really the case. Knowing that the most successful people were way over their heads when they started should liberate you to just start building and iterate to success. 

 

CodeSpark co-founder Grant Hosord developed his Pasadena-based startup to solve a problem his young daughter was experiencing.

Where were you when you had the initial idea for codeSpark? 

I was in my daughter’s Lego Robotics class. Out of 24 students, she was the youngest by four years and the only girl. I started the basics of computer science that I could share with her, and couldn’t find anything for kids under 10 years old. That was the beginning of my obsession with teaching young kids computer science.

How long did it take you to act on the idea?

I started working on the idea the next day. I ended up doing deeper research and prototype development on my own for about six months after that. After testing my prototype with over 150 kids ages four to 10, I knew I was onto something and went looking for a co-founder. After several weeks of looking, I met the brilliant Joe Shochet and we started the company together six weeks later.

What did friends and family say when you first told them about it?

Friends liked the idea right away but wondered how big the market would be. I was initially concerned that people weren’t teaching young kids for a good reason that I didn’t understand, but I quickly discovered research from Tufts and MIT showing that kids as young as four could learn sophisticated computer science ideas if you got the mouse, the keyboard and syntax (how code is written) out of the way.  

Was there ever a moment where you doubted the idea could actually work?

Very early on I had concerns about our "no words” interface as I wasn’t sure if we could create a flow that didn’t require any written instructions. Now we know that our no words approach was a groundbreaking innovation that allows kids all over the world to play and learn.     

What advice would you give to someone who believed they had a novel business idea?

Don’t treat your idea as “precious." New entrepreneurs often believe they need to protect their idea from others but in fact, the opposite is true — they should be telling as many people as possible about their idea, especially experienced entrepreneurs and potential customers who can give meaningful feedback on the idea. They need to learn how viable the idea is as quickly as possible.

 

Involve CEO Gaurav Bhattacharya and his co-founder CTO Saumya Bhatnagar met when the two were in high school in India. Together, they created a service that would help radiologists around the country significantly curb the incidences of female infanticide in the country. The company was eventually sold and is now mandatory for all hospitals in the region.

Where were you when you had the initial idea for Involve?

I met an engineer who was volunteering in India through one of a number of volunteer programs, and he really inspired me to learn code. He told me that nothing in life is unachievable and I took his message to heart with me that day. I started my first company at 17 with my current co-founder, and we eventually sold the company to the Indian government! 

After completing my degree, I came back to India and tried to be a part of the same volunteering efforts that helped me so immensely when I was young. I was told that those programs had been scrapped, despite their impact on employees and the communities they served. On returning to the US, I researched how companies manage their employee community engagement programs in the hope of finding a solution to the problem and stumbled upon the same problem that I heard about in India. 

How long did it take you to act on the idea?

Both Saumya and I are of the “fail fast” ideology. We connected a nonprofit that cared for the health of children in the slum with a hospital and organized a free health checkup. After seeing that, we understood we were onto something. 

What did friends and family say when you first told them about it?

No one in my family has ever ventured into entrepreneurship besides myself. So there was some resistance because of the fear of the unknown. The fact that we were choosing to work on something that may or may not succeed versus a stable job was a little hard to wrap their head around. However, we are very lucky to have supportive families and, eventually, they recognized our passion for Involve and came onboard.

Was there ever a moment where you doubted the idea could actually work?

I think an entrepreneur’s journey is filled with a lot of ups and downs. When you come across a down, you question everything. However, it’s the passion for making a difference in the world that keeps you going. I am lucky that my whole team shares the passion. So when any of us falls, the rest of the team is there to pick you up and dust you off.

However, there were a couple of times when I doubted the idea. Those were the times for micro pivots. That is exactly what we did in the nascent phases of Involve. We identified the areas that would not work and pivoted to be able to make it work.

What advice would you give to someone who believed they had a novel business idea?

The only advice I have for entrepreneurs who think they might have a great idea is that an idea is exactly what it is. Just an idea. Act on it, ASAP. Make sure you are the person who can implement the idea. Don’t be scared to talk to as many people about it. Be open to feedback and iterate the concept based on what people want. And always remember, it’s not the idea but the hustle that makes or breaks you. People bet on the jockey, not the horse.

 

Some responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via participating companies.

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