7 Reasons The Idea For Your Business Matters Less Than You Think

Idea BulbA lot of people dream of starting their own business but put it off because they haven’t found the right idea yet. I was one of these people for a long time. Since actually getting started, I’ve found that the idea is a lot less important than we might think. I’d now go as far as saying your idea barely matters at all.

Often the lack of an idea is simply an excuse for not starting. It’s masking a fear of taking action, rather than a genuine impediment.

Why doesn’t the Idea matter? That’s a big bold claim right – well here are my excuse busting thoughts on it

1 – There is no such thing as a perfect idea

Pretty much everything that looks like a great idea didn’t start out in the same form as it ends up. The “Pivot” is standard terminology in silicon valley, and is almost a badge of honour among startups. Twitter started out as a podcasting service. Flickr was a multi player online game, even nokia started out making Wellington boots! In fact, even companies that do stick to their idea, often don’t start with one that sounds convincing. How many of these companies sounded like a good idea in the beginning?

2 – There’s no such thing as a new idea

Really – there are only a few core business ideas, everything else is a twist on one of them. Even the mighty Google when it started was going into an already saturated market of search engines. Most successful businesses don’t have a unique idea, especially small ones. Everyone knows of a really great local coffee shop – how many of those do something unique? Roughly none I suspect, they just execute the idea brilliantly, which leads nicely on to:

3 – Execution is a multiplier of your idea

I first came across this idea from Derek Sivers. Ideas are multipliers of execution. To create a business, multiply the two relevant numbers in the tables:

It’s a simple and powerful concept. If you take a great idea and do nothing with it, then it is worth nothing. This is kind of common sense, but look at the other end of the scale. If you execute a weak idea very well, then it’s enough to make you a millionaire.

You can argue with the numbers, but the concept is definitely sound.

5 – You will come up with new ideas as you go

The reason you can’t have a perfect idea, is that it’s almost impossible to predict what customers really want, or what they’ll do. The only way you can see this is to be there with them and give them something to pass judgement on.

As you do this, you’ll see what their real needs / pain points are, and you’ll be able to come up with ideas that you wouldn’t have had in a million years before. My friend Mike Peats is a great example – he started a hand made chocolate business. There are 1001 of those out there. In talking to his customers, he spotted a gap in the market for bespoke, branded chocolate. Literally no one else does this, and what now seems like an amazing, obvious perfect idea would never have come to light without being out there doing real business with real customers. (I can vouch for how these taste too – he made us some lovely THDC ones!)


6 – The only way to get better at something is to do it

This applies definitely applies to business.  By working on our business, whatever it is, we get better at it. Most people aren’t brilliant immediately and make a tonne of mistakes. Having those out of the way and being a really good operator by the time you find your great idea is definitely the right way to go.

You’ll want to be amazing at execution when the perfect thing comes along.

7 – Truly great ideas need a team

If you do stumble across that perfect idea, most of the time you’ll want a partner to help you make it happen. It becomes a lot easier to assemble the right team if you have a track record of getting things done, and a bigger list of contacts that you’ve made through executing your original idea

Is the idea ever important?

I will relent a little on the idea not being important at all. There are 2 criteria your idea needs to fulfil, if it is to work as a business for you:

1 – You need to believe in it

No one is going to believe in your idea if you don’t. This doesn’t mean it has to be at the very core of your belief system, but it does mean you need to think that the thing you’re selling is good and will work. If you think it’s a bit crap, everyone else will think way worse.

2 – It must sustain your interest

Not forever, but for long enough to push through the inevitable dips which will come your way. This could mean that the interest in what you’re selling does the trick, but more often it’s the interest in the process that pushes you through. Ultimately I wasn’t totally in love with merino wool underwear when I started my first business, but I was in love with the process of starting a business, which allowed me to push through.

I’ve found often that the interest in the money coming in can be enough in some cases – when you’re at rock bottom and you absolutely need to make the sale to provide your income, it’s easier to sustain interest in even the dullest product.

I think this is the reason why we see rags to riches stories a lot – the motivation to stick with an idea that isn’t perfect is built in when there’s no other option. If things are comfortable, the temptation to wait for the perfect idea or give up along the way is higher.

Time to get practical

So what can you do if you’re struggling for an idea? Two exercises this week, both are very simple. Hat tip to my friend Ducky for the first one:

1 – Write down 20 ways in which you could make money if you were forced to.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what could you do?

If you can get past 20, keep going. Don’t worry about quality or feasibility, just get the ideas down. You’ll be surprised at what you can come up with if you have to.

2 – Write down the top 10 small businesses you admire.

Could you straight up copy them? How could you put your own twist on them to make them your own?

Could one of them be an idea that works for you? Could you execute it brilliantly?

The secret to having a good idea is to have lots of bad ones. So keep doing the exercises, and an idea will emerge. Remember, it doesn’t need to be a perfect one.

What ideas are you working on at the moment?

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  • Alistair Cochrane

    Thumbs up Rob! And I think “wooly underpants” is a good example of an idea that must have required great execution too!

    • rob

      Haha! Thanks Alistair – shows the power of marketing – merino wool is actually about the most comfortable thing you can wear, but it does conjure up visions of something very itchy…

    • Rob Young

      Thanks Alistair, and “wooly underpants” sound awesome don’t they? It’s a lesson in execution and marketing I guess, because put that way you’re right, but in actual fact it’s the softest most comfortable fabric you could ever wear – just goes to say it’s about how you tell the story too.

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