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Picking The Right Idea

Choosing the Right Idea

Peter & I talk all the time about which idea do you pick and run with. We love innovating and since we happen to work with the IP of a number of the world’s largest and fastest growing companies, we constantly are exposed to amazing ideas. Our problem isn’t coming up with them, it is choosing the one to stick with.

I’ve always believed there are two types of entrepreneurs. Shotgun entrepreneurs take a large number of ideas and try many at once trying to see if they can get something to stick. They believe if you throw enough mud at the wall … eventually one of their ideas will come to fruition. Rifle entrepreneurs focus their energy on one careful enterprise at a time. I am very much in the second category. As a result I tend to be extremely cautious about the ideas I commit myself to. So first thing, if I am already committed, then I pretty much ignore all ideas even good ones.

If I am in the looking zone, I have a shortlist of four criteria that I use to select my direction:
1) Does it line up with my personal goals, beliefs and definition of happiness
2) What problem does it solve?
3) What trends play a role – what is the industry timing?
4) Who is on the team – are there people with success who have a vested interest?

I have a list of things that I want to accomplish with my life, a list of beliefs about how I want to have an impact and a personal definition of happiness (that I am just starting to work on). Any time I look at an idea I first ask myself if this will get me one step closer to my personal dreams and definition of happiness. It could be the best idea in the world but if it doesn’t do that, then I probably won’t stick with it anyways, so I’ll let someone else tackle that.

The first day I met Tom, we discussed how to analyze a business opportunity. Three things stuck in my mind and are a key part of my decision making today:

1) “Your income will be in direct proportion to the problems you solve. The greater the problem, the greater the income. That is why heart surgeons make more than stock clerks. After all, which is more valuable to you? When you are looking at any business, always ask yourself, what problem will that solve?”

I was watching a documentary put out by Disney called America’s Heart and Soul (which I thought would be cheesy but turned out to be an absolutely beautiful series of vignettes about people, life, courage, struggles and personal victories) with my wife this evening. They interview Ben from Ben & Jerry’s who said: “The goal of a business is to meet the need, to create the product, not to make money. You make money as a by product of meeting a need and doing a great job of it.”

2) “Timing is everything. A great businessman sees trends and act on them. The best way to make money in today’s world is to place yourself in front of a trend. Ask yourself, will more people participate in your industry next year than they did this year? Is the need for what the business offers increasing?”

3) “Find someone who has made it in the industry who has a vested interest in your success. There is no greater thing in the world.”

So when I look at an idea, I dig deep and ask myself if we really are solving a problem, if the timing in the industry is right and who will join me on the adventure. If all three click, then I know this is it and I commit myself – heart and soul.

Peter & I have started to attend a project management class through Berkley Extension. I wasn’t expecting much (sorry Alan) but both of us were pleasantly surprised last night. The dialog was interesting, the problems we began to discuss were relevant and I am looking forward to getting to know the people in the class. One of the studies discussed shared the critical success factors of a project, almost twice as important as all the other criteria was Clarity of Project Mission. Without this, most projects are doomed to fail. I find this applies to companies and business ideas a thousandth fold.

I’ll leave you with a quote vision that captured an entire nation…

I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth…we commit $531 million in this fiscal year…”
JFK – May 25, 1961

Next week I will write a post and apply the ideas above to how we picked the idea for our next company and give you all the details (and an official beta invite).