Few days ago I was having a conversation with a co-founder of a very promising software startup on which she was explaining a few ideas they have been working on. One of the things that truly impressed me was the obsession that this founding team put into selecting the right idea to work on. After having a fairly successful career as a technology consultant, my friends keeps telling how she doesn’t want to work on mediocre “shit” anymore and wants to focus on problems that can have some impact in a specific industry.
“Selecting the right idea for your product is like finding the right guy to date”, jokingly she said. I wish it was that simple, I responded ;)
The conversation with my friend reminded of some ideas that I wrote on a previous blog post that I thought it might be good to present it to the newer audience of this blog :)
If you are any good in your space, whether you are a programmer, artist or any other profession, you are going to have a lot of ideas about how to improve that space. As an entrepreneur, you need to discriminate the ideas that are worth pursuing from the ones that might not be so good. The answer sometimes is far from as trivial as it seems.
Here are a few tips that might help you with the process of selecting the right idea for your product.
Most of the time, people will tell you to trust yourself and your ideas. I am advocating the opposite; doubt and question your ideas every step of the way. Doubting and questioning the viability of a specific idea is not only the responsible thing to do in terms of the people that depend on you but it will keep you incredibly sharp and innovating. The trick is to NEVER LET THE DOUBTS PARALIZE YOU but, instead, use them as a way to refine and improve your ideas.
Believe in your Idea
Always try to pick an idea that you believe in. Sometimes being passionate about an idea is more important in the long run than the idea itself. Building disruptive companies is a painful journey. You are going to face a lot of skepticism, criticism, and disappointments. The he worst part is that those challenges will extend to your loved ones as well. At any point, your passion and belief in your ideas will keep you going.
Walt Disney would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, blink, and stare back at him in disbelief, resisting even the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually didn’t pursue it. The challenge wasn’t big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement!
I am very blunt about this one, PEOPLE WHO CAN’T TAKE CRITICISMS OR ARE VERY SLOW ASSIMILATING THEM WILL NEVER MAKE GOOD ENTREPENEURS. If you are over sensitive about criticisms you won’t be able to improve and you will let emotions get in the way of your company’s success. My advice here is to trust the intention of the people criticizing your idea, filter the smart criticisms from the stupid ones and MOVE ON.
When Michelangelo was finishing The David, along came Piero Soderini, the town mayor or boss, to have a look. Michelangelo had put a canvas around the scaffolding so no one could watch him work. Piero Soderini put on the show of the art connoisseur, walking around under the huge figure. “It’s coming along wonderfully,” said Piero Soderini. “But do you know what? The nose is too thick.”
He knew that from where Soderini was standing it was impossible to judge whether the nose or anything else was right. “Well, we’ll fix that right now,” he said; and quickly grabbing a hammer and chisel, climbed up the scaffold like a monkey. Clink, clink—Soderini heard the hammer against the chisel and saw marble dust fall. Clink some more. “How’s that?” Michelangelo called down from the scaffold. Of course he hadn’t touched the figure at all but only pretended to be altering the nose.
“Oh, that’s much better!” exclaimed the mayor. “Now you’ve really put life into it.”
I cannot stress this enough, having deep knowledge about the industry you are playing in, the history of companies in the space, and the market in general, will be key to making the right strategic decisions about your product. I will go a bit further to say that your knowledge of history, science, philosophy, art, or social dynamics will also shape the way your company evolves. In my experience, exceptional entrepreneurs are very often knowledgeable in a lot of these subjects and are able to incorporate ideas and drive inspiration from those subjects into their products.
Larry Ellison is a great admirer and a deep connoisseur of Japanese history and culture. That passion has influenced a lot of aspects of Oracle like aggressive sales and acquisition tactics and the permanent goal of achieving 100% market domination.
If You Like Your Idea, Try To Break It
If you think you have a great idea then try to break it. Spend time and energy exploring every possible reason that could make your product fail and set the passions aside. If you can easily point flaws in your idea then you can expect others will as well.
Evaluate the Risk
Ultimately, you need to evaluate the risk of failing to come up with some strategies to recover from failure if it happens. There are some ideas that are worth trying simply because there are minimum risks in case of a failure.
When the podcasting company Odeo realized that they had little chance against ITunes, Jack Dorsey presented an idea to the team that could help reinvent the company. The idea didn’t have the best reception but, realizing that they had little to lose; Evan Williams gave Jack and Biz Stone two weeks to work on it. Have you heard about Twitter…..? J
Make Others Believe
The degree to which your core team believes in your vision, dreams and capability will directly impact the type of company you are building. Software startups can’t be seen as a factory anymore in which the bosses dictate and the developers follow well defined recipes. Disruptive products need vision, passion, team-collaboration and are typically painfully hard to build. If you are able to inspire your team to share your dreams and passion, they will make your company, product and team better every day.
Can You Execute?
Your capacity to execute is as important as the quality of the idea. As an entrepreneur you should obsess about the execution of your team, you need to spend less time doing the fun stuff and more taking on the painful things and making others execute better.
The French invasion of Russia in 1812 was considered a great idea from any military standpoint but Napoleon totally underestimated their capability to survive the crude Russian winter. If the Russian campaign turned out to be successful, it would have been the end of years of European wars and would have granted France one of the biggest empires in human history. Instead, the failure of the execution forced the French troops to retire from Russia in December 1812 marking the beginning of the decline of the Napoleonic empire.
Stop Sketching and Start Executing
Execution is the best way to validate and improve your ideas. Don’t try to answer every question before you start executing. Most likely, you won’t be able to. Without executing on an idea you are unlikely to find out its true potential. Remember that failure is rarely the worse outcome, mediocrity is.