Author: smalltimeentrepreneur

Getting started with entrepreneurship. A blog for amateurs.

Whose Idea Is It Anyway?

Original ideas don’t exist anymore

While writing my previous post Somewhere Between NDA And PDA, I started thinking about the originality of ideas. Most ideas have been done before, one way or another. Ideas come from problems or opportunities in everyday life, and other people and companies have been around for way longer than you or I to solve them. With new technologies, we can offer new solutions to replace old ones. It’s still the same idea. Look around the web and I guarantee you’ll find your idea in some shape or form, always different but slightly similar – or vice versa.

No big deal, though. It’s up to you to make your idea stand out, whether in the way you communicate or deliver your solution. In order to do that, you must ask yourself why. Why have previous solutions failed? Why is your solution better? Why is your team the best to create this solution? And so on… The point I want to make is that you shouldn’t expect your idea to be unique; no one does. Customers, investors, and employees included, they expect your idea to be sound.

Who cares about being original anymore?!

Somewhere Between NDA And PDA

An entrepreneur’s biggest fear

Unfortunately, we have this belief that when others hear our idea, they will take it and run. They will make all the money in the world. And, somehow, they will get it just right. I’m not going to argue whether an idea is important or not; I’m going to address the elephant in the room startup world: a hidden fear found in most – if not all – entrepreneurs that others want to and will steal their precious idea.

Once we have our idea, we tend to hold on to it and keep it to ourselves. Why is that? Probably because we think someone will copy it, steal it. We don’t realize that one day someone will do the exact same thing and that someone is a competitor. So why do we focus so much on keeping it secret in the first place, why are we so competition-averse at first but not later, why are we paranoid and afraid?

It’s stupid to think that talking about an idea means giving it away; it’s naive to think that our idea is original and no one has done it before; it’s short-sighted to think that someone won’t copy it sooner or later; it’s undermining to think that we can’t do it better. Facebook wasn’t first, and neither was Google. Elon Musk isn’t afraid to publicly discuss his ideas (see this image of him talking about his plans for Hyperloop on Twitter) and I doubt he ever feared telling people about his idea to build a high-performance electric vehicle. And you know what? He’s doing just fine.

Just because you think your idea is great, it doesn’t mean someone else will. And even if they do, they may not take a huge interest in it. And then if they do, they will not have the vision you have. You can always do it better than others; you have to if you want to be successful. Think NDA’s are going to save you? Think again. I’m not telling you to start flashing your idea around like a couple engaging in PDA at the bar, but do try to be more open about it. Don’t be paranoid, but don’t be careless either.

What’s an entrepreneur to do with an idea if not tell the world about it?

Obsession Is Your Enemy, Keep Him Close

A dose of obsession

I’ve talked about an entrepreneur’s best friend, so today I’ll talk about your enemy number one: obsession. Obsession, according to Dictionary.com, “is the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc”. Successful entrepreneurs obsess over their idea (and over every detail of their startup), unsuccessful entrepreneurs obsess over their idea as well (and every other detail of their startup, too). So what’s the difference??

Obsession isn’t all bad; Google offers the following synonyms for obsession: compulsion, infatuation and even passion. It’s also a strong desire, belief or love for something. It’s the kind of desire, belief, or love that gets you going, motivates you, encourages you, and drives you. In part, it takes a bit of obsession to get into entrepreneurship; an entrepreneur has to be a little bit crazy, right?

On the hand, obsession can be bad, it can be a disease, and perfection is often a symptom. Unfortunately, perfection is an inhibitor and it may lead to analysis paralysis, a state in which over-thinking actually stunts a startup’s growth by impairing your decision-making abilities. How can you sell your product if you’re spending too much time preparing a demo? How can you ship your product if you’re analyzing its design too deeply? How can you ship your product if you’re afraid of people’s reactions?

The good side of obsession is persistence, the bad side is blindness so beware tunnel vision. Find the balance that is right for you and steer your startup in the right direction. Use your obsession to push yourself forward, but don’t let it hold you back. Obsession is wanting to make dreams to come true, but is that really so crazy?

Can you tame your obsession?

Straight Up Startup

Defining a startup and what that means for an entrepreneur

Startup is a term that is hard to define and that’s because most people don’t agree on a single definition, not even among entrepreneurs. I’ve read about many different criteria for classifying a company as a startup and not a small business, but the truth is that the real difference is merely the image. Startup is a brand, it’s sexier and feels premium, while small business, well, it’s just a smaller-sized version of a business, which doesn’t sound quite as appealing, right? It’s superficial, really.

A startup can be defined by its growth as proposed by Paul Graham and Daniel Tenner or by its business model as suggested by Steve Blank. It can also be a feeling, a culture or a state of mind, or any of these definitions by various founders. Let’s look at other possible definitions and analyze the different points of view:

Company that sells users(‘s data)

A startup uses data provided by the users themselves to make money by selling it to the highest bidder, which is usually advertisers and other times bigger companies (as some may argue is the case of Facebook’s latest string of acquisitions).

Company without business model that is in search of monetization

A startup creates a great product for free and then struggles to incorporate a business model into its core, generally through advertising. Startups like this can be extremely successful without making a cent simply because of high adoption rates and incredible growth. In the end, they still need money either from its customers or from its investors.

Company that is small and (possibly) in the tech industry

A startup is simply a small business, more often than not operating in the tech industry. In this case, any business can be a startup, even a blog, a freelancer, a consulting service, or a local shop.

Company that creates a market through innovation

A startup launches a product and also a category. It creates a new market and drives demand for its product. In this case, the startup is an innovator and its product is first-to-market; investors will take a gamble and competitors may wait by the sidelines before jumping in for a piece of the pie.

Company with one product that grows into a business

A startup is built around one product which needs to scale by building a business around itself. Sometimes, these are single-feature products; think of mobile applications. These apps are built purely focused on the product offering and either eventually make money which forces them to shift focus towards business or eventually realize that they need to make money to keep going and then shift their focus towards business.

Company that makes no profit and is VC-backed

A startup offers a product or service at lower pricing than the market and often operates on a loss but is covered by venture capital. Startups like this are usually in a rush for land grab, competing for market share rather than revenue.

Startups are evolving and so is their definition

Startups should be defined by their ability to fail, their ability to grow beyond expectations. To challenge and overcome paradigms. A startup is a modern day David fighting the Goliath of today’s corporations. That’s the way I like to see it. How does that affect us entrepreneurs? We have the opportunity, and even the duty, to shape this definition. We are leading the charge of innovation and building the future of business. Be part and be proud.

What does a startup mean for you?

Why $10 Is Better Than $1M For Your Startup

Here’s why we should change the way we think about money for startups

Ten dollars is, of course, a nominal amount. But, the point is that if someone – anyone – is willing to invest even the smallest amount of their own money on your product, then you know you’re onto something. The bigger implication here is that money for startups is, most of the time, synonym to investment when money for startups should mean support; so stop searching for that big paycheck and go find what will really boost your startup.

Many startups have been successful by charging for their product from the very first day. Although that may not work for every startup, charging upfront means more than just having incoming revenue, it means receiving support from people who care. Another way to get support straightaway is through crowdfunding, where every contribution counts no matter how big or small because it’s the power of the community that makes a difference. This means, again, receiving support form people who care.

Besides being a great way to validate your startup idea, charging for your product or asking for contributions will get you real, genuine support as opposed to an investor looking to make a quick buck off your idea. Bootstrapping might not be a possibility for every entrepreneur, but startups should pay more attention to alternative opportunities for growth. While a large investment might help market the product and increase user base, a small number of paying users can help improve the product itself and strengthen communication.

One million dollars is a dream, a mirage in the desert, and worst of all, it’s a distraction. An entrepreneur has to think about every dollar cent his startup earns – and to fight to earn it. With every cent comes great support (yes, I’m borrowing from Spider-Man) and you would do well to collect all the great support you can because it will make a huge difference for your startup. Your customer is your biggest supporter and when you do cash out, it will be more fulfilling knowing that people have supported you along the way than filling your pocket with money.

What would you do with $10 (from a loyal and recurring customer)?

Ideas Are A Dime A Dozen, Invest In More Than One

Debunking the startup idea

Startup ideas are overrated. They are like weird relatives: everyone has one. And since ideas are so easy to come by, why not invest your time and effort in more than one? The more, the better! After all, ideas are a dime a dozen, right?

Ideas don’t cost money – not initially, at least. There are even ways you can validate your idea for free. If you’re a technical person, you can build your own product; if you’re a suit businessman then you can build your community. All it really costs you is your time. Now, you might have a family, a job or other commitments, but you can always decide how much time you want to invest in your ideas.

Too often, entrepreneurs get caught up in thinking about the money, how much it would take to build something and how much to market it. Well, normally you should be to do at least one of those with your time. You may then need to think about finding a partner for the other part or, at this point, consider the money that would be required. Either way, that’s less money you need to invest, and more time you can invest.

Entrepreneurship is risky and investing all your time in one idea can be a bad idea (no pun intended). It’s like they say, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. So, think about trying out different ideas to maximize your chances of success! Another reason for doing more than one idea at the same time is purely to stimulate your brain by exercising it with different tasks and pumping it with creativity. Get your juices flowing!

The idea isn’t really the idea. It’s just another idea. Another in a long line of ideas. Some will work, some won’t. Why limit yourself to one only?

How many ideas do you think you can juggle?

Beware: Tunnel Vision, A Nightmare For Entrepreneurs

Tunnel vision is a startup killer

An entrepreneur’s job is tough – we all know that – but one of the lesser-discussed challenges we face is tunnel vision. Entrepreneurs are prone to tunnel vision because we set out sights on something and we focus so hard on getting it that we forget the other “stuff”. Like race horses, we see only the finish line, rather than everything that’s happening around us.

As entrepreneurs, we set out with a business goal: to conquer the world. Joking but we do all want a million users or a million dollars or a million followers or a million something. The problem is getting caught up in our goal and not being able to look past it which makes us miss opportunities, sacrifice quality, and drive users away. Most goals lead to other goals, and the best goals are the ones that escalate towards your startup’s mission.

When you’re chasing a million followers, you forget your users; when you’re chasing a million users, you forget your revenue; when you’re chasing a million dollars, you forget your product; when you’re chasing a million anything, you forget everything else. Of course it’s important to have goals, know your goals, chase your goals, but an entrepreneur’s job is to juggle all the goals of your startup while keeping in mind its mission, and overlooking goals can cost you big time.

When is the last time you got your eyes checked?

Validate Your Startup Idea On The Cheap

Ways to validate your startup idea

  1. set up a landing page and a goal (ex. number of sign-ups) to test your concept
  2. go crowdfunding, get support and feedback from the community
  3. contact 10 would-be customers, explain your idea and ask if they want you to build it for them
  4. list 5 potential customers by name (see Inc. Magazine’s napkin test)
  5. build a page to ask people for one social share (ex. a tweet) from those who believe in your product
  6. send the idea to 3 friends and ask each to pass it on to 3 others if they believe in it (and so on)
  7. try a simpler version of your idea (ex. be consultant or freelancer, build a web app, do the work manually before writing code, etc.)
  8. run a survey to find out how many people have the pain/problem you’re solving or have an interest in your idea
  9. write down all the negatives and weaknesses of your idea and evaluate whether these can be defended or overcome
  10. find at least one startup/business that’s doing the same or something similar now or in the past (if possible, contact the founders for advice)
  11. start a blog and grow a community of supporters around the topic of your idea
  12. establish yourself as an expert in the field (if you aren’t already) and use your followers for feedback and promotion
  13. recruit a partner, co-founder, or team to build your idea
  14. get one client (who isn’t your mom!) to agree to pay for and test your product once it is built
  15. submit your idea to a startup community such as Westartup to get feedback and make connections

Create products that people love by validating your idea first and channel your passion in order to be successful. Validating your idea is very important but can seem difficult. It’s easier than you think and all it takes is some thinking and some effort. Validation will be necessary at any stage when you think about finding a co-founder, recruiting a team, attracting investors and so on. Validation early on can help you get the next steps started and kick your startup into gear by saving time and effort right from the start.

Have you thought about validating your startup idea?

Ideas Are Worthless, Ideas Are Everything

Idea vs. execution: who wins?

Recently, I spoke about the relationship between vision and execution which brings up the question of which is more important for an entrepreneur, startup idea or business execution?

While there isn’t one decisive answer, many entrepreneurs have shared their thoughts on this question previously. Let’s look at some opinions from around the startup community:

FOR:

But the reality is that ideas do matter, just not in the narrow sense in which startup ideas are popularly defined. Good startup ideas are well developed, multi-year plans that contemplate many possible paths according to how the world changes.Chris Dixon

My view is that a startup is a continuum of ideas. The initial idea may bear some resemblance to the idea at any future time, but the actual instantiation of the idea can vary dramatically over time based on the learning that happens along the way.Brad Feld

AGAINST:

The value in an idea is found in the ability to execute and make it meaningful, not in protecting the idea from others. – Anthony Iannarino

Ideas don’t make money. Businesses make money. And businesses might be sparked by ideas, but they’re built on execution.David Berube

When entrepreneurs come to me with that “million dollar idea,” I have to tell them that an idea alone is really worth nothing.Martin Zwilling

Yes, unsurprisingly it seems that the general consensus is that execution trumps idea. Of course, it doesn’t have to be one against the other and successful startups should do both things well while successful entrepreneurs will have passion for their idea and inspire it in others to help execute. Unfortunately, this is all you get: an ambiguous answer at most; it’s up to you to put your idea and execution to the test as an entrepreneur.

However, I will offer this: either great ideas or great execution can lead to good startups. If you have a great idea that answers a need or solves a problem well, your startup can succeed. If you have a great team or set of skills which can help you with execution, your startup can also succeed.

Which path is right for you?

Routine, An Entrepreneur’s Best Friend

A change of pace with routine

One of the big changes I’ve made recently is adding routine to my life. I’ve always been one to act on impulse and a bit of a procrastinator. Sure, I get things done but sometimes at the last minute. With a routine, I always know what to do when and what needs to be done now. So I’m going to tell you how and why routine can be your friend, too.

An entrepreneur must know how to best use his time and apply his energy. Whether you work from home, the office, a co-working space, or you have a job, family, etc., routine will help you organize your tasks and priorities.

I now enjoy the benefits of routine – here are some rewards you can reap:

  • you’ll have time to devote to yourself, your hobbies, your fulfillment
  • there are only so many hours a day and you’ll boost your productivity at any given time
  • routine is like a daily workout and you’ll train your body and muscles for maximum output
  • doing things on time keeps the people around you happy, and you, in turn, happier
  • don’t ever forget the things you have to do again

Look for these barriers – and overcome them!

  • it takes energy to build a new routine and it takes time for it to become a habit
  • deep down, procrastination is a habit so you have to fight to break it
  • life is unpredictable and things are sure to come up, so make some time for dealing with the unforeseen

Now, routine gives me more time and focus. I’m sharp and getting sharper and I look forward to my daily workout. It’s great motivation for an entrepreneur and it produces real results. Give it a try and see for yourself what kind of routine suits you best.

Turn your boring routine into a challenging workout to train and better yourself!