Coming up with a new idea with huge potential is only half the battle. Equally important is finding one that fits you.
As an adviser to entrepreneurs, one of the most common requests I get is for an evaluation of people’s next startup idea.
I try to explain that even the most innovative idea will fail if it is not a good fit for you at this time, so the question I ask is “why you now?” rather than “why this solution now?” The right person can make any idea a business success, and the wrong one will always struggle.
The reality is that I can’t judge any idea in your context, because I don’t know your passions, knowledge base, and experiences. If you show me a written business plan, I can assess it from a technical perspective, but that doesn’t tell me if you are the right person to create the business.
Thus, I can only recommend some context for you to make your own idea and business decisions:
1. Play to your passions and personal interests.
Pick an arena that gets your creative juices flowing, rather than one that everyone says is the next big thing. If your goals in life revolve around social change or the environment, aim in that direction for your startup, rather than maximizing revenue and profit. If you are not motivated, you won’t succeed.
Entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, who founded Zappos, was passionate in his belief that he could “deliver happiness” to customers, before making a profit, through innovative moves like surprising 80 percent of customers with free overnight shipping. He succeeded well in both.
2. Trust your background and intellectual strengths.
The most successful entrepreneurs focus on solving a problem that they personally have experienced and are convinced they fully understand. The same applies to dealing with the business elements, such as marketing, business operations, and finances. You may need a partner on this one.
Bill Gates learned to appreciate the power of computers at a very young age but was frustrated that available models were large and hard to program. He helped to invent Microsoft Basic and Windows, snagged Steve Ballmer for marketing, and Microsoft changed the world.
3. Consider your access to resources for startup efforts.
Take a realistic view of your ability to assemble the necessary funding and attract the right people. Your strengths in physics and electronics may be excellent, but most of us could never attract the funding required for a new microchip process. Maybe you need to start with a smaller idea.
4. Assess the time and effort you are willing to commit.
Most startup ideas will fail if you approach them like a hobby that you can work on occasionally and on weekends. It’s hard to win when other entrepreneurs are known to work hundred-hour weeks, and perhaps don’t have a family to balance. Your time is a critical limited resource.
5. Measure the depth of your relationships with key people.
Most successful startups have deep relationships with experts who can mentor and support them or provide access to critical resources and funding. There is no entitlement in this business. You need to enjoy building the new relationships you need and nurturing the ones you have to succeed.
6. Check your interest in learning how to fill the gaps.
No matter how experienced and knowledgeable you are, every startup is a new learning process. If you don’t enjoy learning, stick to ideas and businesses that are “cookie-cutter” versions of what you already know. Your success depends on enjoying the journey as well as the destination.
7. Test your ability to communicate value to others.
Some of the highest potential ideas and businesses require a massive educational and sales effort, which may not be your forte or interest. Very few ideas these days have such obvious value that “if we build it, they will come.” Most startups require leading a team of people and engaging customers.
So before you make those cold calls to me or any other constituency for an assessment of the viability of your next great idea, my advice is to take a hard look at your own drivers and resources, per the items listed here.
I’m convinced that there are more than enough startup ideas around, such that you can pick one to match your profile, and we all win with your success.