Look, this isn’t clickbait or tough love. I don’t assume you’re an idiot who walks around thinking your startup idea is brilliant when it’s actually terrible.
I mean, we all do that, right? But most of us eventually realize it. So let’s go ahead and push through the fact that most startup ideas are really terrible.
Seriously, give me like 30 seconds on this. It lays the foundation for the rest of the article.
Think of measuring the potential success of a startup idea as a funnel. At the top of the funnel, I have to ask myself the question: “Is my startup idea terrible?”.
If I can answer that question negatively, my idea goes down the funnel. That said, the vast majority of startup ideas are terrible and dead and floating at the top of that funnel.
Okay, we’re past the first cut. There is a big cut left before we get to the real problem.
Now, even if my idea isn’t terrible, I stop short of pushing it very far down the funnel, because the next question eliminates a lot of potentially successful startup ideas:
“Am I going to act on my startup idea in some meaningful way?”
Do you see where I’m going? Now we have a bunch of startup ideas that never got off the ground floating dormant in the funnel, just below the terrible startup ideas. Some of these ideas could change the game and the world, but we will never know, because the idea never made it past the development stage. “Someday I’m going to read a really inspiring article about startups and make a serious career out of this idea.”
Maybe this is that article. Maybe it is not. Maybe you’ve already stopped reading.
For the rest of you, here’s the trick.
Yes. It’s a story that I see repeated a lot with startups:
They spend a lot of time building beautiful business models, with pristine, thorough plans for every possible outcome. Then, when those plans are met with the first “punch in the mouth” of the real world, the plans are immediately abandoned, and soon after, the idea is abandoned as well.
And then, here’s an execution story that I also see repeating itself all the time:
Founders and product leaders develop immaculate, beautiful roadmaps that detail, up to the day, all execution. They design what the company will build, market and sell. That roadmap is then saved in a folder and not consulted again until the end of the year.
And then they realize that they have done 30% of what they said they were going to do.
If we combine these two problems, that’s exactly where most non-terrible, non-idle startup ideas die.
There comes a time in every entrepreneurial journey when the founder realizes that the complexity of running his company is greater than his ability to do so successfully.
This moment may have already happened to you, or it may not.
I’m a startup veteran. I like it when this moment of panic occurs within a week or so of starting to execute. And if it doesn’t, it makes me seriously reconsider the viability of that idea as a business. If I can see an easy path ahead of me, then hell, so can anyone else with a couple of dollars and a dream.
The thing is, most viable ideas don’t die because their founders have lost their minds. Some do, of course, and the resulting post-mortem stories, when they come to light, are like watching trains crash.
“A startup raises $100 million with a valuation of $10 billion and closes the following week due to lack of progress.”
We tend to remember them.
But even if you think that kind of overreaching, underperforming implosion happens often – and I think so too – experience tells me that exponentially more startups fizzle out because the founders made their milestones too small and simple – just to stop. that they could track execution more easily.
This happens for many reasons, and panic is one of them, but it is definitely not the most common reason or the most cunning.
Everyone wants founders to show their progress. And not just small progress, but huge leaps of progress.
So what happens is that founders make plans and roadmaps and charts and graphs that have nothing to do with the actual progress of executing their idea, but that look like progress. It looks exactly like how a large, mature, corporate company would carry out its brilliant idea.
With all the swelling included.
They create theoretical checklists for the sole purpose of checking items off that list. And when they don’t know what items to put on that checklist, they turn to a methodology that tells them to put a checkbox for something like “find product-market fit.”
And then they come to me and ask me how to find product-market fit.
That? I don’t know that. Well, I mean, I know. But not for you. It is your product and your target market.
You put the product on the market and see if it fits. And when it doesn’t fit, you find out why and hammer the product peg into the market hole.
That kind of progress is difficult to track on a Gantt chart. So this kind of advice doesn’t sell many books or lectures. But I have to tell you, especially these days, with “profitability” as the new mantra, I rarely read anything about idea execution other than some version of “stay in the shallow end and splash around for a while.”
Well, unless it’s the polar opposite, which always translates to “Go big or go home!” I believe in that, but I can’t tell you what the hell “big” is or where the hell “home” is..
I think “big” could be an IPO and “home” is your parents’ house. It’s an assumption.
The viability of an idea is a moving target, it is not binary, and its milestones are unique to each startup idea. Furthermore, progress toward those milestones can only be measured when the composition and work style of the executing team is taken into account.
In fact, there are so many variables that intervene to keep the execution of an idea on the path of viability – or the adequacy of the product to the market, to use the appropriate term – that trying to follow a simplistic, planned methodology based on numbers It usually guarantees that execution will remain simple, but ultimately fruitless.
When this happens, a startup team works hard. A lot. A lot of work. But that work almost always results in a product or service that looks exactly like what a big, bloated, corporate company would have created, based on that brilliant startup idea.
And that’s when that brilliant idea dies.