As soon as we think of an amazing startup idea the first thing we often do is trawl the internet to see if someone has already built the app, the service ,the hardware device. We want to know if it has already been done. Oft times, we are deflated to find out it has been. But if we have to search, has it really been done? If no one knows about a concept in market it raises a lot of interesting questions:
Did they execute well against the idea?
Is their product good, but the distribution poor?
If the distribution is poor, does that mean the product is actually bad?
If the distribution is poor, does that mean it’s not solving a real problem?
If the distribution and product are both good, are the switching costs too high?
Did the team have the right funding?
If they had the funding is the timing too soon – is the market ready?
The truth is we’ll never be able to answer these and other questions. And so it brings us back to the very first moment of inspiration. We thought it was a great concept and maybe that is enough. We know most things change their shape in the development process anyway. Maybe we should build it regardless of what is out there. Build our version of how things could be. Remembering of course that most fortunes are made with old ideas done better. Property is the oldest business in the world and still to this day creates the most millionaires. Even Youtube, a new kinda business, arrived when there were already over 400 video sharing websites (that we know of).
It’s another reminder our world is big on ideas and small on execution.
There is a phrase which comes from a best selling book*
I tell all of you with certainty, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.
The economics of this statement are simple. If we want to get paid for you knowledge & skill, then we ought travel to a location where we are the unknown quantity.
*No, I haven’t read the book in question.
I’m pretty convinced that a sign of us living a good life is when all days seem to be created equally. When a Friday is equal to a Tuesday is equal to a Sunday is equal to a Monday. Entrepreneurship is about a lot of things; achieving something, recognition or maybe even wealth accumulation. But surely it’s about what the actual days feels like. Does it feel good in itself, or is it only serving those achievement type things mentioned above? When generating our next startup idea maybe we need to add another criterion to the expected market demand and business model considerations:
Would we be happy spending the 300 Mondays doing this?
If the answer to this is yes, then maybe the other factors don’t matter as much as we thought.
When we are forging our own path in life and in business, doubt is the key enemy. It’s even bigger than fear. The reason it is a serious enemy is because doubt always happens before fear does. So when we sense self doubt, we need to fight it and forge ahead, or fear might just take hold. We must ensure we don’t stop what we are doing. We need to keep writing, keep coding, keep building, keep creating and just keep doing whatever it is we ought be doing.
Even when we are not sure of the next steps. Even when we can’t see where we are going – we must continue to move ahead. It’s a bit like walking in the fog – the path only reveals itself if we continue walking. If we instead stand still, nothing is revealed
It’s not uncommon to hear about an ambition startup or entrepreneur wanting to change the world. But does the world really need changing? Is everything we live in so bad that some of it isn’t worth keeping? Are we that limited in our thinking that change is all we can come up with?
Maybe what we really need to do is improve the world.
And sometimes improving the world might just mean keeping some things exactly as they are. Some traditions, physical locations, products, services, events and attitudes are just perfect the way they are. What might be needed is the fortitude and vision to maintain the things of great beauty we are already blessed with. Maybe that’s where the next important opportunity lies. Human endeavour, and startups for that matter aren’t all about change, and certainly not change for changes sake. They’re about problem solving and creating value for others.
Yes, I like the rain forests just the way they are.
I recently met someone at a conference I was speaking at. Afterwards we exchanged some emails on a new project he was working on. He needed a developer, but was nervous about sharing his idea with anyone. After I assured him that there is rarely currency in ideas, and having them stolen was a low risk, I offered to connect him with my development team. Which from my talk, he would’ve known they were overseas. He sent back an email which said:
Where are they based?
This was my response:
Based overseas…. Moldova to be precise. I’m sensing that might by why you asked….
Here’s a some better questions:
There is nothing more common in startup land than to hear the advice of remaining focused. I used to believe this myself, but recently I’ve changed my view. I’ve changed my view because I think we focus too soon. We tend to focus when we think the idea or the space is we are playing in is hot. We should only focus once we have real in market validation. While there are many measures which validate a concept, media coverage does not amount to market validation. We have to remember the objectives of the media – especially when it comes to technology industries. What they want to do is the following:
- Report on something new
- Try and predict new trends and what’s next
- Fill up their pages for traffic (fill the void)
Just because what we might be doing is interesting and different, doesn’t mean it will get traction in market. In fact, sometimes media coverage in the early phases of a startup is an indication the idea itself might be bad. They cover the new and the shiny, which could mean we’ll have a much harder job ahead of us in changing behaviour and redefining how something is done.
I think we can take a lesson from the old fisherman we see on the shore line. They tend to cast a lot of lines in the water and employ the multi-fishing rod strategy. Not knowing which one will get a bite. They use different bate and different sized sinkers. Some lines are cast far from the shore, while others are much closer. They are looking for validation, for a bite. And once they get a bite, they’ll focus on that particular fishing rod and reel it in. Focus, post validation, not before.
When it comes to non-fishing startups we need to look for real in market validation. Real usage growth and revenue are the simplest. And once we have that, we can start to focus without folly.
There are some things which we as humans intuitively know will occur. Almost every industry has a future state which we can see occurring at some point. While the timing might be hard to predict, the inevitability is predictable.
We can take a quick look at certain industries to provide exemplars of this contention:
- In the future cars will not run on gas / petrolium.
- In the future smart phones will be usurped by wearable computing.
- Physical retailers who compete on price with omni available goods will cease to exist.
- Leisure space travel will be within reach for the masses.
- Many (half?) companies will close offices and move to remote / choice based location working structures.
- Global virtual and crypto currencies will replace fiat currency.
- 3D printers & scanners will be as common as computers in homes & work spaces.
- Sharing economies in all industries will create resource leverage & new financial liquidity.
- Self organised banking and lending systems will emerge.
- Connected everything – chips and sensors in everything from milk cartons to t-shirts.
The list is endless. These are the ‘When & Who’ startups. Those with a high level of probability, even though it may not be us, and may not be now or next year.
Yet, many startups focus on things which may occur, based on a needed shift in human behaviour which – if it does happen will be insanely profitable. The ideas that no one has thought of (white space), where the entire prize can be theirs alone. I call it the ‘IF’ startup. Sure they are possible, yet they are improbable due to their occurrence being so rare.
So we have a choice on which kind of startup to go for. The possible or the probable. The ‘if’ or the ‘when and who’. I feel like it is a better choice to go for the inevitable, rather than the possible. It’s true that some things arrive which we didn’t see coming that change lives, the reality is that most technological curve jumps are foreseeable. As a bonus it’s usually easier to inspire our supply chain, customers and investors on highly probably events of the future. And while we all make our own market entry choices, it’s nice to go in with our eyes wide open.
Yesterday I was cleaning the remnants of 2012 from my desk when I found an old note pad. I was flicking through and found some thoughts and ideas I had written down during meetings, while listening to some talks and just reading articles. While many of them are ‘oldies’ I still think some are worth sharing and creating a digital foot print for.
- Being busy is not the same as being effective.
- We should begin every project as if there is no budget.
- 1 billion dollars laid flat in $100 bills would fill a 1 meter deep 1300 meter square space. (Swimming pool?)
- To get a good answer, we need to ask a great question.
- The average Australian has 1 testicle (be careful with averages).
- Get T-Shaped people to work in your business. A broad set of experiences. Arms that reach wide into the world. People that can go left or right. people who are centered and balanced.
- It’s worth asking “why” 5 times if we want to get to the real reason of something.
- There are only 7 major plot lines to a story: Overcome the monster, Rags to riches, The quest, Voyage and return, Farce, Tragedy, Re-birth. Even our startup needs to choose one of these.