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Photo By Louis Lebbos - April 2010

On Starting Up Part 2: What To Do

In the first essay in this series (Why Start a Startup), I wrote about why starting a startup is a great way to live a fulfilling life of challenge and personal development. If you haven’t read that article, would recommend you read that one first.

In this article I address the next logical question: Which idea to pursue and why?

Most creative people who have an entrepreneurial drive constantly think about potential startup ideas. Daily life offers both frustration and inspiration and entrepreneurs enjoy solving these in their minds with ideas of (potentially) sustainable businesses. In fact many entrepreneurs keep lists of ideas they are interested in and go back to those lists for inspiration.

While some people argue that the original idea doesn’t matter so much, since you will most definitely end up refining it over time with either small iterations or larger “pivots”, it makes sense to have your first arrow shoot as close to the “target” as possible for a few reasons we will examine below.

To start, here are some telling signs that your idea is worth exploring in more depth, one of them is sufficient but the presence of multiple would be a stronger sign that you are onto something:

·        You just can’t not do it: There is one problem you cannot get off your mind. You encounter this problem and come up with an idea to solve it and it stays on your mind for weeks. You get busy with another project for a few months and the problem stays on your mind.

·        You are curious about the underlying components of the solution. This could be a new industry you are really interested in, a functional domain you want to build expertise in or something that would provide enough long-term energy to power a long journey.

·        You search on Google and find similar solutions but you still believe in it. It is incredibly common to see people lose interest in an idea once someone else has already had it. If your objective is solving the original problem and not proving your genius then you are more likely to stay focused and committed.

·        You run it by someone you respect and they challenge it, you understand their perspective but still believe in the underlying rationale. They might end up supporting you, joining you or investing or they might remain skeptical but it is always important to talk to people about it instead of hiding and being worried “people might steal it”

Second, you have to be aware of what you are getting into. So here are also some warning signs to watch out for before you start something.

Do your idea if:

(1) You are ready to spend 1-3 years doing it with few signs of success (media articles never count internally). There are quite a few clichés on this specific topic, without re-hashing any of those here, the point is that even the most successful companies in the world took years to build and looked like failures, or at best, a toss-up in the first few years. You need to be ready for that journey, on psychological, financial and emotional levels.

(2) You are ok not getting paid for the first couple of years (Or getting paid less than you ever made working for someone else). This is similar to the first point but underlines the fact that you have to be ready for the worst. Optimism is great but you cannot pay the rent with rainbows and motivational posters. Be ready for a long runway and if take-off comes faster then it’s a happy surprise.

(3) You are not doing it to become a billionaire. There is nothing wrong in that outcome at all but considering the long path (See two points above) if you are doing it for the wrong reasons you are likely to give up before you get anywhere and, more importantly, you are likely to attract the wrong type of people to join you on this mission which is a startup killer.

(4) You aren’t pursuing it because you hear so much about it in the media, from bureaucrats and other trend-chasers. As we work with a lot of startups it is surprising to see how many people jump on an over-hyped trend (See: Blockchain, AI, etc) as if it is a gold mine.

Unfortunately, almost always, hyped trends are usually mirages made-up to feed an industry of “visionaries”, consultants, and conference peddlers and the gold mines (real identified big opportunities) are attacked immediately by the large companies and the startup advantage is to spot unidentified opportunities and focus on those.

While the points above are not comprehensive, if the items in the first group apply to your idea and you have been able to avoid the pitfalls of the second then you are on the right path.

In the next part of the series, I will write (again) about co-founders and what to look out for when searching for both co-founders and early team.

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