This article was published in February 2012 issue of SiliconIndia
Date: Thursday , February 02, 2012
Being in Silicon Valley, every day I come across so many brilliant people that it’s amazing to learn about new and interesting things. However, I am quite surprised when I suggest to them that they should be starting their own companies. Their reply quite often is that they don’t have an awesome idea. They would further add that it’s also so hard to find such an idea. So I start wondering what a great idea looks like. How do we know that the idea we have is an awesome idea? My theory is if we start with the belief that it’s hard to come up with an awesome idea, then it’s a non-starter and hence, you won’t be able to generate ideas. My experience is most startups end with an idea that is far from what they started with. So the initial idea is your starting point, and here are my four key take away (4KTA) points on this topic.
1. Find: How do you find your awesome idea that you can start your business upon? Then, how do you make it hugely successful? And as a result, make tons of money and/or make a huge difference to your customers, whoever they may be – consumers or enterprises? Here are a few places to look for that awesome idea. The starting point is to review your own skill sets, your domain expertise, your industry, and try to find pain points that your customers tell you about. Make sure you feel passionate about solving that problem. Another is to attend industry and analyst events, read voraciously about market trends, and analyze them from different angles. Be relentlessly curious, rather be over-curious. Keep asking questions. Seek answers from your colleagues, your customers, and your industry contacts. Be objective and also, don’t take analyst’s forecasts for granted. They will give you some ideas on major trends that may be occurring that you can take advantage of. However, keep in mind that industry pundits can be wrong. All of these things are, what I call, just the dots. Now, you need to connect them to form your own idea, see a pain-point and provide a solution for it by starting your company. You should go through the presentations and articles of veteran venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, on various topics ofentrepreneurship.. They are very insightful and full of wisdom. Finally, make sure that you listen to your gut. As Vikram Mehta, Founder and CEO of Blade Network Technologies, now part of IBM, pointed out in My Story program recently at TiE Silicon Valley, “Don’t second guess your instincts… nothing great has ever come off listening and adhering to conventions”.
2. Initiate: So now you have your starting point – your idea. It’s your starting point to solve a particular pain-point for your customer. Think of it as your process of discovery that will lead you to that awesome idea eventually if you persist and keep pivoting, keep pivoting until you hit your jackpot. My first company Ukiah Software Inc. started with a simple idea for developing an IP to IPX gateway software but it ended up becoming a firewall/proxy software product, then a wide area network bandwidth optimization product and policy management software before it was acquired by Novell within three years since its inception. Similarly, according to Bhaskar Roy, Co-founder of Qik, now part of Skype, they were passionate about real time video communication and felt that there was a need for a high quality two-way video communication service, and that existing solutions were of low quality. So they started their company to initially develop it for desktops but then pivoted it to provide a solution for mobile networks and hence, reached a much broader user base.
3. Validate: Now, how do you validate your idea that this is now an awesome idea? Well, there are various schools of thoughts. Logically everyone will tell you to go and talk to prospects who would become your customers. However, many times even customers may not have thought about it and secondly, they may say yes it’s a great idea but the question is if they will buy the product when you have it ready. How do you get that commitment? If you can get your customer to pay for it in advance, you’ve got your validation. On the other hand, legendary visionary like Steve Jobs envisioned great products such as Apple Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad with his own intuitive analysis and was hugely successful. This comes back again to the points made earlier that always pay attention to your gut. When I asked Bhaskar how they validated that they had hit upon an awesome idea. He replied that during their private alpha launch, his team noticed that end users were using it daily, and more users were clamoring to join alpha testing. Additionally, through tremendous word of mouth, the product was getting a lot of publicity. No wonder then, that within eighteen months, Qik had over a million users and today it has over thirteen million users.
4. Execute: Once you have found validation for your awesome idea, it’s time to execute, execute, and execute. Always remember what Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”. So you need to out-execute since there will be plenty of competition on the horizon from startups and large companies in adjacent markets noticing your success. The great news is that now this is your day! You will be chased by everyone from venture capitalists, investors, corporate partners and prospective employees. So you need to take advantage of it rapidly and build upon it. Remember stories of Netscape Browser and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mac, Windows and many more. So execute and execute aggressively whether it be forming an eco-system around your product, creating more stickiness for end users with continued user delight, or expanding distribution channels. This is what Qik did by integrating with Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and making it available on multiple mobile platforms, thereby broadening and deepening its reach. Similarly, at Ukiah Software, we formed partnerships with large vendors including Novell, who ended up acquiring the company.
In summary, my 4KTA points for finding an awesome idea is to use F.I.V.E. strategy - Find, Initiate, Validate and Execute.
The author is a serial entrepreneur and Board Member, Chair – Programs, The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE ) and member of TiE Angels Steering Committee, based in Silicon Valley, California.