Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How to Idea? Be a Hunter.

I don't know about you but I've spent more years than I care to admit waiting for that 'great idea'.  Starting out, I figured I'd help my friends with their ideas until I had my own epiphany.  I worked my tail off and time passed.  I waited.  Ten years and several exits later I had a great resume and several wealthy friends, but still no idea of my own.  That wasn't the plan.  I was a smart guy.  I gave it a lot of thought and realized I had been like a hunter waiting for my quarry to shoot itself.  But that isn't how it works.

Now what?

"Ideas are easy" has become a mantra these days.  Execution is king.  It's true.  But the difference between a serviceable idea and a bad idea is like the difference between hitting the edge of the target and shooting in the opposite direction.  We've got to start somewhere so we should aim as wisely as we can.  For those of us for whom ideas do not immediately spring wholly formed like Athena from Zeus' forehead, what are we to do?  Take Athena's lead.  Be a hunter.

Look for the signs

Wait.  Watch.  Eventually you'll get the feeling you should look for.  Inconvenience.  You can notice it in someone else, but for passion/product fit it's a sensation that should be your own.  Inconvenience makes an excellent compass.  When you feel it head in that direction.  Ask "why?"  Ask that often enough and you'll get a glimpse of the beast you're looking to snare.  The idea won't yet be clear but the general outline of the problem should be apparent.

Be patient.  Understand before acting.

So you've been on the hunt for some time.  You've spotted something of interest.  Do you immediately spring into action?  Sure - if you haven't a care for the cost.  Tackling something as soon as we spot it often feels right because our instincts evolved on the savanna.  Hackathons and the like encourage this mentality.  The projects that emerge are often novel but are risky as the foundation of a business.  Attempting to build a solution before you have a deep understanding of a problem is like a hunter leaping on the back of the first thing that moves.  If you're lucky it's dinner but it could just as easily make dinner of you.  Be patient.  After that first hint you are on to something give yourself time to explore the problem you have discovered.  Like the hunters of old it may be necessary to track your prey for some time before finding just the right way to move in for the kill.

When to move?

At this stage some let analysis paralysis stop them dead in their tracks.  Don't panic.  You've cornered your prey so press the advantage.  But when to strike?  When you have validation.  Your passion for the problem is a good gauge.  If you can't stop thinking about the problem you're on to something.  You can also validate your choice by checking to make sure other players are attempting a solution but where you feel your idea solves the problem significantly better, faster, cheaper, etc.  If nobody else is trying to solve your problem you're either a clever first mover or a fool.  So tread carefully.  There are many ways to come at this, but it's important to validate.  Be creative, but find something that works.

In my case I chose to validate my approach to the process instead.   I started making predictions.  I figured if I could write one elevator pitch per week, if the ideas were any good sooner or later I should see them show up as funded companies. It was hard at first, but it got easier.  I started having more than one idea per week and could sift through the rubbish.  I watched and waited.  I was busy with another startup so the waiting was easy.  It didn't take long.  In six months I got my first hit. It was an article announcing a seed round funding one of the first ideas I'd logged.  Eighteen months passed and three quarters of the ideas hit as seeded companies.  I felt foolish for not doing this sooner.  I'd been having big ideas all along.  I just didn't bother to catch them.

Attack!

Everybody has great ideas but few stop to take them seriously.  When inspiration strikes and an idea appears in the mind, they dismiss it as unattainable or trivial.  To quote Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, "Be sure to 'notice' ideas when you have them.  Stop.  Take the time to consider them seriously." Set aside the time and make it happen.  Once you've got the idea do your research.  Track your prey.  Understand it thoroughly.  Then validate your approach.  If the idea still has its hooks in you, pounce on it.

Make a choice.  It's time to act.  The next big idea is out there and it's yours for the taking.  Ready your bow and let Athena's arrow fly.