Jan 272014

idea-lightbulbWhen I talk to young entrepreneurs I’m always impressed by the enthusiasm and passion they have for their new business ideas. While I want them to be excited, I also want them to succeed in the long-term. Unfortunately, excitement doesn’t always map to success. There are two questions that should be asked of any idea before an entrepreneur unleashes their enthusiasm. First, “Can this idea disrupt the status quo?” If it’s not going to disrupt someone’s existing business, the idea may not be valuable enough to drive a successful new business.

The second question is “Will this be a feature, a product or a business?” This is about defining scope. Many interesting ideas are really new features for existing products. The risk is whether these features generate enough value to differentiate an entire product. When considered in isolation, these cool features can appear monumental. However, when seen from the context of busy customers who are difficult to reach and resistant to changing what works, it’s clear the value on offer must reach epic proportions. It’s better to focus on an entire new product experience.

Many new products replicate some existing product functionality but the most successful products redefine the overall experience to such an extent they create a new category. Yet, even this is not always enough. If this new product is successful, are there adjacent problems and customers to drive a string of hit products? One successful product can be the basis of a new venture but successful entrepreneurs think about building businesses not just products.   

Mar 262013

I got an interesting question via email today:


You said something that touches on a struggle I’ve had my whole life. I’m hoping you could offer some advice.

The gist was “There’s nothing more dangerous than an entrepreneur with just one idea.” I’ve got the opposite problem entirely. I have real difficulty not working on an idea, and I latch on to a lot of ideas at once. The result is pretty predictable – if I was doing this on a workbench, there would be a dozen things that are about 1/3rd built.

I know intellectually that it doesn’t work that way – that seeing things through is the important bit, that keeping focused is key if you want to build success, and that you aren’t doing wrong by your ideas by not spending energy there – that you take focus from one idea in service of another. I think I get it, in my brain at least.

But I’m lousy at putting that into practice. It’s really easy for a novel idea to catch my passions and I have a really hard time putting that idea in the book and coming back to it later. Short of hiring someone I could hand my half-solved puzzles to so I could half-solve a new one, do you have anything you can offer me here?

 My reply:

This is a standard problem for creative people. One solution is enforcing a more granular workflow. Any time you contemplate “starting” something, you should set a clearly defined “stop” point. That doesn’t mean it’s stopped forever, just that you are stopping for now. You need to define one unit or increment of work with a clear end state that will allow you to move on. This increment or unit should be short. Don’t start anything else until you’ve reached the stopping point, hence the short duration. Having a bunch of projects all simultaneously in mid-flight is draining and task switching will eat time. Redefine each “flight” as a much shorter hop. Then you can leave one idea conceptually in the hanger and avoid going insane trying to simultaneously pilot all of them.