If you want to start a business, don’t start with an idea
Note: The video above is a shorter version of the text below.
Look at any person who wants to start a business, and you come up with the same story.
I have a great idea / list of ideas!
Followed by the said list of ideas. Ideas like:
- Facebook for cat lovers
- Tinder for Yoga teachers in London
- Linkedin for Professional Clowns (because clowns need to network, dammit!)
The “normal” way forward is to then “validate” these ideas, which involves asking a dozen people:
Do you like my idea?
Do you like my idea?
How about you?
Some of these people may even be potential customers. So for example, in the Facebook for Cat Lovers, you might even ask one or two cat owners. And a few might say yes, they love the idea. They might even cut you a cheque.
You have “validated” your idea now, right?
So What’s the Problem?
It’s that the idea is all about You.
You You You!
Meanwhile, the poor customer is thinking there going, Huh? What about me?
Because the idea focused approach is totally zoomed in on you, it becomes a sort of a , pardon my French, mental masturbatory exercise.
It’s easy to get lost in day dreaming. How you’re going to build this cool product that will attract a million users. How you will be featured in the business press. How you will overcome all these problems to become a shining overnight success.
See what I meant when I said it becomes all about you?
Worse: The Ideas take a life of their own
Soon, everything becomes about the idea. You try to polish you idea. Make it perfect. Sexy it up. Add this feature. How about that feature? Surely, I need X & Y?
Many people spend months or even years building their product, before realizing no one wanted it in the first place.
This happens because serving some mythical perfect idea becomes more important than finding out what the customer will pay for today.
Or, as Amy Hoy says (ever so eloquently):
An idea is a terrible thing to build a business on.
A “Great Idea™” will make you its bitch.
Everything you do will become about the idea: You’ll worry that it’ll get stolen. That somebody else will launch the idea before you do. That the idea is not good enough. That it’s too big, or too small. That you’ll finish your product and ship it and find out that… it was the wrong idea.
He Stole My Idea!
Like Amy mentions above, a dark side of ideas is that everyone is worried about them being stolen.
Venture Capitalists / Startup owners are sued all the time because once, when they were sitting on the loo, the person in the other cubicle shouted out an idea to them, and now wants 50% of all royalties.
As Landon says:
Your Idea is Not Original
Everyone and their mom has a startup idea. You’re probably not the first person to think of Snapchat for snails or Pinterest for picklers. Very few ideas are truly revolutionary, and that’s okay. Apple didn’t invent the computer, Google didn’t invent the search engine and Facebook didn’t invent the social network. They all made these products better.
A startup is 1% idea and 99% execution. Instead of keeping your idea a secret, figure out how you’re going to do it better than anyone else.
As a novelist, I see this My ideas are unicorn farts all the time. All successful authors (ie, not me) are asked to write a book on some person’s idea, with said person then getting 50% ownership of the book.
Holly Lisle has this in her FAQ:
If I supply the idea, would you collaborate with me on a book?
No. But we can do it the other way if you’d like.
You take my idea, and spend nine months or a year or whatever working it into a finished novel, and sell it, and when you’re done, credit me with coauthor status because I came up with the idea and send me half of your advance and half of your royalties from now until the end of time. Also half of all subrights sales.
Also known as: You do all the damn work, I’ll take 50% of the credit because I came up with the idea.
That is the problem with ideas. Ideas are evil.
Is there a better way?
Yes! But I’m not tellin’ ya.
Okay, I’ll tell you.
It’s called (shockingly): Listening to your customers.
Not customer interviews, where you quiz “customers” about your “idea”, and where the customers politely listen to you, pretending to like you, but secretly day dreaming about eating strawberry sundaes.
No, you listen to your target audience in their natural habitat, in forums, in discussion groups, hell, even in the pub.
You listen to what they are complaining about, what do they hate, what they constantly bitch about. Do they only bitch, or do they pay for solutions?
You then build a product based on what people are struggling with.
Notice how the word idea doesn’t come into the situation at all?
You start and end with solving your customer’s pains. And that’s how you build a product.
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