In Silicon Valley, everyone will tell you that ideas are a dime a dozen. And for the most part, this is very true…without the proper hard work, sweat, tears, and red bull…the vast majority of ideas get booted to the mythical “idea deadpool”.
However, it should also be noted that its a significant mistake for talented entrepreneurs/engineers to waste their time going down the wrong path — to go “heads-down” and build a complete prototype and then realize there is no market for it. Ask any solo engineer entrepreneur…very rarely does the adage “build it, and they will come” ever hold up.
Here are what I believe are 5 keys to solid ideation:
#1 - Practice early and often.
Continuously brainstorm ideas. Write them down. Compare and contrast them. Think it all way through from…from value proposition to the customer to the market size to the business model. Be practical.
#2 - Stick to what you know.
If you’re outside the Internet industry….you might want to focus on developing a company that rectifies a broken process in your industry instead of trying to create the next Google. Not saying you can’t create a web startup, just that you should focus on your unique aspects - whether it be your location, current industry, or hobbies - but just make sure that you have a leg up over your competition. Otherwise, you’ll spend 10x the effort your competitors will given they probably are experts in that arena.
#3 - Keep it Simple Coming up with elaborate ideas that take months or even years to develop at costs of anything more than 5 figures isn’t really going to do you any good. Anyone can dream up a supernatural product that is awesome…but you gotta be realistic. My litmus test is, can a prototype version be built in less than 6 months with less than $10,000? (Many would say 3 months and $5000 nowadays.) If so, keep moving…otherwise, be prepared for a long, expensive slog without much knowledge of what happens on other side.
#4 - Find a Partner
I can’t stress this one enough. Everyone wants to go it alone. It’s a mistake…ask any solo entrepreneur. Building a company is hard…building one by yourself is even harder. Partners help flush out bad ideas, are a great sounding boards, and provide motivation to keep going when you’re ready to quit alone.
#5 - Validate the Value Prop
All ideas must be vetted before committing any resources. Once you’ve developed the next Facebook, Zynga, or GroupOn in your mind…go out and talk to those folks who would be your initial customers and ask them if they would value your proposed service. Either way, you’ll probably be very surprised with what you hear.