Every entrepreneurial venture begins with a big idea, right?
No, not really.
Entrepreneurship is not the same as dreaming up ideas. Entrepreneurship is the act of organizing people and resources to operate a business, taking the risk on personally.
Ideas are riskless. They are free. They require no resources, demand no operation, need nomanagement.
I’ve seen weak ideas turn into legit businesses at the hands of hustling entrepreneurs.
I’ve seen incredible ideas create no value, stuck in the minds of dreamers.
It’s true, a great idea in the hands of an entrepreneur is better than a weak one. It’s also true that many entrepreneural ventures begin with an idea. But there are two misnomers about ideas and entrepreneurs:
- The idea comes first
- More ideas are better than fewer
Practice, practice, theory
I’ve written a lot over the years about the way people learn and become experts, and how antithetical it is to the schooling process. Schooling begins with theory. You study to prepare for the real thing. Real learning is the opposite. You engage the real thing and only then have the context and curiosity to pursue study of it.
Take basketball. You don’t begin reading books about the proper elbow position for a jumpshot. You begin picking up a ball and playing. If you play enough, you might decide you need to step back and analyze the finer points, then put them into practice with more play.
Or bike-riding. Can you imagine giving a kid a book about drafting techniques on the Tour de France before they’ve ever touched a bike? (That’s basically how the school system prepares people for work, btw.)
So it is with entrepreneurship. Ideas rarely come first.
Entrepreneurs are action-biased people. They’re out there bumping into the world, trying stuff, hustling, creating. In the process of doing shit, they run into problems. Real problems with real costs to themselves. Then they step back and notice others have the same problems. Then they theorize about solutions.
Being immersed in an area, with real skin-in-the-game, leads to problems. Problems lead to ideas for solutions. Testing the ideas leads to the entrepreneurial leap to build around it.
It’s rarely an Ivory Tower eureka, or result of a whiteboarding “ideation” session. It’s usually the result of doing stuff.
More death than life in a new company
Once an idea is in motion at the hands of an entrepreneur, they’ve got to be vigilante and look out for the biggest threat to progress: more ideas.
Every business - especially in a world powered by software - is almost infinite in its potential.
Sure, you could make a little arcade game. But what if you also had in-game items that could be sold on a marketplace? And ability to form teams? And team chats? And ability to use items in other games? And a market for mini-games within the game? And a user skin-creator feature?
What began as a simple, clear idea for a game quickly spins into a global marketplace, social network, messaging app, design interface, and gaming identity management tool. Each of these is a product unto itself, with a slightly different market, different pain-points, different user behaviors, etc.
When you start in the imagination, your scope grows too big to contain or build. You can’t decide what to build first, for whom, or how. You’re competing with yourself now, instead of other players in the market.
But if you start on the ground, with a single pain point and a single value prop for solving it, you can respond to each user problem with a discreet solution. Solve one problem better than everyone else. Then take in feedback and see whether solving another, adjacent problem makes sense.
It’s possible you actually end up with the epic platform described above. But that’s only possible if that’s where the solving of one problem at a time organically leads.
Startups are about killing ideas far more than they’re about bringing them to life. You’ve got to sacrifice the 10 things you could do in order to focus on the 1 thing you must do. Over and over again.
So if you want to build, get out of endless ideating mode.
The bible says, “Take every thought captive”. That’s not bad advice for entrepreneurs. Lock them up. Keep them out of the way. Get your hands dirty in the real world, confront problems, pick the biggest one and solve only that.