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Maybe it’s in the Silicon Valley water. Maybe it’s just part of our inbreeding, or breeding or lack of breeding. Maybe it’s we drink a lot of wine, maybe it’s the weather. Maybe. Every day I hear of another great idea from friends and colleagues for new, inventive online businesses. Some aren’t bad, some are awesome and many we’ve sketched-out at the counter at Bill’s Cafe in Willow Glen. Few have come-to-pass. A small handful have made it, most don’t make it past buying the URL.
@Edubya and I always joke: There are no.new.ideas. And, I believe it’s true. It’s not having the innovative idea that is key to starting a project, it’s the skills behind it to turn that idea into a business. Unless, of course you like torture. And then, well, go ahead. @la_gringa and @linseyk and I toss ideas out every day — the topics vary, the target varies, the models vary, but there are a few things that are key to flushing out an idea. Bottom line: there’s more to an idea than an idea.
If I… Had a Great Idea
1. Write the idea down immediately. It has to be one sentence, less if you can. Now stop. Does this fully demonstrate what your idea is? No? Do it again. What is your idea? Do it again until you can tell me instantaneously what the business is. One sentence, no cheating with run-ons. Got it. Okay.
2. What’s the problem? Now this is stupid, basic VC jargon, but it’s a great way to gut-check your idea. What’s the problem that you are solving with your idea? Is it a big problem? A small problem? Who’s got the problem? What’s the problem. Tell me in three bullet points, no more than two sentences each. I didn’t ask what the solution was, or why your idea is great or what the benefits are, I’m asking you, What’s the Problem that your idea will solve?
3. What is the solution? This is not the place to tout your great executive staff (you and your drinking buddies with Stanford degrees) or how big the market is, or how you can beat competition or how cool your idea is. This is the place to run the same exercise, but tell me in very short sentences what your solution is to the problem. Remember, your idea is not unique, so why is this solution the better solution?
4. How does your idea make money? Unless you are independently wealthy and love your idea so much that you’re willing to blow a huge wad of cash on this idea as a hobby (don’t laugh, I’ve had clients just like this), then you need to know how you are going to make money. Tell me exactly how you plan to make money. Here’s a hint: Google Ad Words is not your primary driver of revenue. And ad dollars? You’ll need over 10mm pvs/month to make ad revenue worth your time. Now with those two things in mind. How does this make money?
5. What are two of the seven deadly sins? I had the awesome opportunity to get to know one of the greatest, most well-known VCs in the world. He taught me a lot, but the thing that stuck with me is that in order for an idea to be a compelling business, it has to have two — but not more than three — of the seven deadly sins. For the record, the seven deadly sins are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.
6. Refrain from naming the company, creating a logo or building a website. Car salesman will ask you what your favorite color is. It’s one of the first questions. Why? Because it’s the first emotional question that leads to commitment. Use restraint here — it doesn’t matter yet what your idea is named or how it looks. The strongest buildings have strong, flexible foundations. Build the foundation before you pick the paint color.
6. Do you like your idea? If you’ve ventured into entrepreneurship before, you know, it’s hard as hell. Beyond the need, the solution and the revenue potential, you have to believe in your idea. Do you want to do this every waking and sleeping moment for the foreseeable future?
Last year, I went down the path of opening a make-your-own ice cream sandwich shop. The idea was good, not unique, of course, but good. It solved a problem, it had revenue potential, it had two of the seven deadly sins. I was committed to delving into the next stage of building out a business model. I talked about startup costs, competitive landscape and pricing. Then one day, my kid left ice cream on the back porch. I walked outside to the nastiest smell ever. The ground was sticky, the ice cream was rotten and smelly. I started laughing. Despite my idea, my beloved ice cream shop, I realized I didn’t want to spend the next few years of my life with sticky, smelly dairy. And there went the idea. Love what you do. Be ready to live it.