That Awesome Idea Is Probably Not Worth As Much As You Think

 Eli PortnoyWhen I was building my first startup I believed that my idea was at the very least 50% of the value of my company, and so I acted accordingly. I was careful to keep it a secret, I protected it, and I held firmly to the initial mission even when the market was telling us we needed to evolve and change.
The second time around, while I was building Thinknear,  I had enough experience to know that the idea itself was meaningless, especially during the early stages, and it was all about execution.
I recognized that whatever super insightful idea I had, there were at least 50 others with the same or very similar idea. All of the mistakes, lessons, and scars from my first business made it abundantly clear to me that going from idea to business is a lot harder than going from nothing to idea. I understood that every idea requires changes, pivots, and reactions to the market.
There are a few things I did differently from my first startup to the second because of the realization that the initial idea is just not that valuable.
I stopped thinking of our concept as an idea, but a series of hypothesis to prove/disprove.
Some people mistook this as a sign that I lacked conviction or direction, but the reality was that I had been humbled enough to know that it is dangerous to believe you know anything up front. Knowing what to test is in my opinion a sign of direction, much more so than a blind belief in one’s gut.
I chose a market and a direction that I believed others were less likely to pursue.
My last job was working in the digital video space for Amazon, and let me tell you it is one super competitive market. Everyone wants in because video is a fun job to do and a fun thing to tell your friends you do. I didn’t need more topics of social conversation and I did not want to confuse my business for a source of social validation. I wanted to be in a super unsexy business with little competition.
My second criteria in looking for an idea was looking for an angle in my space that established competitors were less likely to copy. Either because it would be cannibalistic to their existing business, or because their models wont allow it. Understanding that my idea wasn’t unique, I wanted to find a concept that even if others came up with they would  be less likely to get excited about and jump into. The downside to do this was that its harder to raise funding or recruit for these types of unsexy businesses.
I shared the idea openly
Whenever I met up with someone and they asked me what I did, I would tell them. I didn’t necessarily talk about our product roadmap, but I was very open and transparent about our ideas, hypothesis, and general direction. I was only too happy to give my view on the market and our competitors. Why? Because being part of a startup meant I had fewer people to bat ideas around and I needed fresh eyes, I craved other perspectives, and I wanted feedback. I especially found this helpful when talking to others in completely unrelated fields because their perspective often leads to the best insights.
When things didn’t work, I quickly listened to the market
Being open to the possibility that my idea wasn’t earth shattering made it much easier to actively listen to the market and incorporate the feedback. Rather than clinging on and digging in when things didn’t go according to plan, I became introspective and really tried to understand whatever learnings were available. I used these to constantly check our idea and evolve it as bigger opportunities emerged.  


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