Many people who dream of starting businesses tell me their greatest obstacle is having a great idea to start with. I call this belief my number one entrepreneurship myth and wrote about it and productive beliefs that can help more than the myth.
Besides the productive alternative belief that a good idea plus listening to your market succeeds more than trying to make an idea perfect, another counter to this myth is that great ideas come easily when you know how. As a business school professor at Columbia said
The idea of a lifetime comes once a month.
I completely agree.
What makes an idea “an idea of a lifetime” isn’t its profitability or popularity but how much of your time you devote to it. It’s your lifetime by which you measure the idea’s value, not anyone else’s or any abstract lifetime. If you love it and want to work on it, know how to execute and do, you can create the life of your dreams. (if you don’t know how to execute you may have problems, but that’s the subject of another post. Today I’m talking about the idea part of starting a venture). Likewise, if it makes money and becomes a household name, but you hate it, your life will be a disaster, and a public one at that.
The challenge to making a venture succeed is execution, not the quality of the idea, so if you’re looking for success in the idea, I suggest you’re looking in the wrong place. Execution succeeds based on experience, social skills, and passion. All the other resources you can get through social skills. Passion comes from the intersection of your interests and the idea.
Personally, having invented my way of making linear zoetropes, I love developing new technologies with them and making art with them. And what do you know, my company is still going strong after fifteen years, licensing the technology globally.
What makes an idea valuable?
An idea’s value before you hit the market doesn’t come from how you think customers will like it. You’ll change it many times before launch. That’s what the D in R&D means: you’ll develop it.
Before you start to develop it, I suggest two criteria, which constitute a very low threshold for deciding if an idea is worth pursuing.
- It won’t obviously fail in the opinion of every knowledgeable person you talk to about it
- It excites passion in you
The first criterion takes a couple conversations and costs nothing. If absolutely nobody finds value in it, I suggest looking for another idea, but you can always continue.
The second criterion determines whether it will motivate you. If it will and a few knowledgeable people like it, pursuing the idea will improve your life. People will wish they did what you did. You don’t need to go public or sell for billions. You will have a great passion in your professional life and you’ll love it.
If, after you develop it, you don’t think it will succeed in the market, you may choose to let it go, but you enjoyed the time working on it and built experience. Your next project will succeed more.
Another genius business idea: the series
In this series I’ll post ideas I think could succeed. Mainly I want to show how easily you can come up with ideas. They’ll be ideas I casually came up with, believe they could succeed (criterion one, check) and excite passion in me (criterion two, check), but I’m already pursuing greater passions.
If they resonate with you, go for it. Mostly I want you to see you can come up with an idea worth developing.
I also want to share the ideas in case someone wants to run with them. I think they’ll improve the world. I hope to get credit or some involvement if I inspire someone.
Note that I don’t say the ideas are ready for immediate launch. They’re ready for development. You may have to figure out how to create a sustainable competitive advantage for them. You may have to figure out how to make money with them. These are the typical challenges at the beginning of the execution phase of a venture.
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