Sunday, 12 February 2012

Startup Lessons Learned: Your Idea


I have been meaning to start posting my thoughts on findings on my startup experience for a while now, and since I am now in the run-up to returning to contracting (temporarily I might add), the timing seems appropriate.

I want to start with where it all began - the idea.

Beware of your noisy mind

Over the years, I have had lots of ideas. I often sit there getting on my soap-box and start putting the world to rights about just how different things would be "if I were in charge" (and of course I still do).

As a geek, this is natural - our very career is built on solving problems, simplifying things (or at least attempting to).

Exercise caution. The truth is, most of your ideas are stupid. Now, this isn't to insult your intelligence - but most ideas we come up with are spur-of-the-moment. They lack the clarity and experience that you will need to get them off the ground.

My advice: Don't write off ideas immediately, but write them down in a little notebook and review them regularly. After a week or two of letting ideas soak and rattle around in the brain a bit, decide if they should remain or be refined.

If you have to say "it's like.... but.." - BIN IT

I've met too many people at startup meetups that just seem to be doing just this.

Here's some truth for you - if it's like something else, but it's so similar that you have to use that to identify your product. You have no edge.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting inspired by something else. Google is a great example - but when pitching the idea to people, I bet they didn't start with "It's like Yahoo.. but..". No - "It's search, that's it. A really simple, really smart search."

Naturally, many ideas are formed on what is currently happening around us. That's how we grow and improve - but focus on what you are bringing that's new to the table. If you are "like" other things - what are you bringing to the table?

For me:

  • moflo: Based on a system I refined during my own personal financial journey. Borne out of a hatred for spreadsheets and complex formulae, it gets you to focus on the parts of your budget that you can do something about, and just focus on improving your financial situation. We aim for it to be nothing like anything you have used before because everything sucks.
  • dreamBIGLY: Many people have not even asked themselves "what do I want to do before I die?" dreamBIGLY is all about inspiring, connecting people, doing and sharing. It's all about creating those smiles that creep across your face when you do/see something totally awesome. ^_^ Every list app I have seen before just made me yawn.
Eat your own dog food

Along the same vein as the above - if you don't want to use it yourself. Don't bother. You must have a passion for what you are building. If you don't believe in it yourself, how on earth do you expect to convince others to do the same?

I actively use both moflo and dreamBIGLY each month and in doing so both my budgeting and "life list goals per year" count is improving significantly. My spending on things I don't value continues to fall, while ticking things off the life list becomes more common.

Live and breathe your idea. Not only will this help you build a better product - but it will give you a solid opinion with which to fight the critics with. Yes, as incredible as your idea is, some people might not like it!

Take all the "smart" out.. For now

One mistake we made with moflo was to try and put too much "smart" in in the beginning. We ended up making things over-complicated and ripping it all back out. Yes, it will eventually be going back in, but only after we have learned two things:
  1. Do people even need such "smart"?
  2. How can we introduce in an unobtrusive way that "just works"?
It's easy for us to focus on all the "magic" we can add - and we should definitely keep it in the back of our minds. But focus on building the simplest form of it first. When I say simple, I mean simple.

The truth is, your own idea will be a little warped - this doesn't mean it's "bad" - it just needs refinement.

"Form follows function" is what the architects would say. I have started to think "form emerges from function". Take your idea down to the root, re-plant it and then let it grow.

To wrap up..
  • Let the ideas soak.
  • Refine them into the simplest form.
  • Use your own ideas. Test them. Understand them.
  • Plant the seed and let it grow.
  • If it takes a hold with other people, you may be on to something.
Now go create!

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