[This post is part of a series on four main myths that discourage entrepreneurship and how to overcome them. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Many classmates in business school said they wanted to start businesses yet few did. For that matter, many people in life say they want to start businesses yet few do.
I asked many why they don’t. Four reasons dominate my non-scientific survey, all of them myths. Myths aren’t necessarily problems, but each of these discourage people who want to start businesses from doing so, so they are counterproductive in most cases. Also, since entrepreneurial behavior and beliefs are useful in many domains in and out of business, the myths hold people from success and the lives they want across wide parts of life.
Myth 1: You need a great idea to start a business.
I hear this reason more than any other. As best I can tell, people look at great products on the market and see how successful businesses can be based on such great products. (I don’t mean to leave out services, non-profit ideas, or non-business ideas. I’m using product as shorthand for any entrepreneurial idea and business for any project.)
This perspective is a myth because it misses how companies start. Pick any company. I guarantee the product it first went to market with — or better, the product the entrepreneur first envisioned — was not what succeeded in the market.
My usual example is Google — obviously today a company with a successful mix of products and services. In 1996 you probably could not have thought of a more foolhardy idea than to challenge Yahoo!, Excite, Lycos, and so on. What you see today, or even what you saw in 1999, evolved from the original idea.
The problem with using Google as an example is that their success is extreme and people use Google’s extreme success to conclude it’s a non-representative outlier. It’s not: their early product development is typical of all companies who emerge with a great product. When a company is based on a great product, that product evolved from the original idea, especially at the early stages. I know of no case where a product emerged exactly as envisioned, and the better the product, the more the evolution.
(I’d love to learn of counterexamples. Please tell me if you know of any companies with great products whose products were exactly what the original entrepreneur envisioned, or even nearly so.)
There are many cases, like starting a corner deli or laundromat, where a business succeeds without the original idea evolving much, but if that’s the idea someone wanted to go to market with, they wouldn’t be saying they didn’t have an idea. There are also successful businesses, like pet rocks, who succeed despite having not-likely-to-succeed ideas. But people with those ideas don’t cite this myth.
This myth is counterproductive because it stops people from entering the market for reasons that, had other successful entrepreneurs believed it, they would not have entered the market.
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