I really don’t give a damn about your startup idea. Less than damn in fact (1). Listen, no one is going to steal your idea and if they do, they are probably going to screw it up anyways – in fact, you’ll probably wind up screwing up the idea yourself. Ideas are worthless. Much smarter people than me will tell you the same (I always ask myself, WWPGS - What Would Paul Graham Say… and so here’s what PG had to say about ideas.)
The problem is that when you hear that ideas are worthless and ideas suck and no one cares about the idea, you are kinda stuck in a “Well, if ideas don’t matter, what actually matters then?” game.
Inspiration. To me THAT is what matters here – not some idea that’ll change a hundred times or morph as you learn or go out the window for any number of reasons. Inspiration should be much more constant and consistent. It’s the “why” you do it versus the “what” you do. And in truth the why will drive you for the next five years, while the what is much shorter term. That’s the reason inspiration matters – it is the thing that will push/drive/lead you (as an entrepreneur, founder, product person, etc.) towards the right idea for your company.
Where Inspiration Lies
Here’s some of the things I think represent inspiration. What specifically (a person, an article, a pain, an experience or something else) inspired you to want to work on this idea? Tell me about the conversations you had and the people you spoke with that pushed you after this idea. How does this problem make you feel? Who was the most inspirational person in this idea? What specific thing did they say? Why were you compelled by that conversation? What drives you to win at this?
If your idea likely sucks, how do you know you are being inspired by the right person, problem, thing or challenge? What if my inspiration sucks too? For me, I point to a few things I felt and did when I realized I’d found something to inspire me:
- You recall all the minutia and details of a specific conversation or conversations – it’s something in those conversations that you can’t quite shake.
- You can’t find an answer that seems like it should exist. It’s one of those things that you feel is so obvious that someone has to have an answer.
- You take a long car drive, walk or subway ride and time flies by as you continue to think and ask yourself questions.
- You get restless when you are doing other things. You daydream a bit or get inspired to think about something by random things.
- You are asking way more questions than normal. You may even pick up the phone randomly and call friends, mentors, investors, peers or just people you trust to ask them for their take on things you are thinking about.
- You want to meet with people who seem to know more about this area or space you are thinking about.
- You read and consume way more content about this area than normal.
- You have conversations and approximately half the people say, “That’s impossible or really hard which is why it is like that,” and the other half say, “Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense, why is it like that.”
- You find companies in the space, but none of them seem to quite answer the question you have or do “it” for you.
- You don’t know exactly what needs to be done, but something keeps telling you that something needs to be done here.
The Journey Towards Inspiration
As an entrepreneur, it feels like we should be hunting for some amazing idea – it’s so easy to explain, so natural to talk about and what is written up in the history books. Yet the law of averages says your idea probably sucks (play violin sound). However at the exact same time, your inspiration could be spot on.
Personally, for the past few weeks and months as I’ve begun hunting for my next startup idea, I’ve kept looking for some startup, some concept or some solution that would be magical and be the next (insert your favorite startup success story here). Then one day as I went on a long walk with my wife and started relaying the specific details and points from a series of three recent conversations. I didn’t quite recognize it at the time, but that was inspiration – a thirst to understand and a desire to move quickly to learn. Now I realize that while I didn’t yet have my startup idea, I did have inspiration. Sure I didn’t know what to do with the inspiration yet (and I’m still discovering that), but I could tell I needed to do something.
And that’s why I am now starting to spend less time asking questions about other people’s ideas or startups, and asking questions about what inspires them to take on this challenge or this opportunity. What inspired you and will that be enough to keep you inspired over the long road ahead?
Ask yourself why you personally care about this idea – and if you have an answer that motivates, challenges and inspires you, then you might just have found your inspiration (and the idea will come).
So just what inspired you for your startup idea?
I sometimes feel bad when I’m somewhat dismissive of the idea and dive into my questions for a new entrepreneur. It’s not that I don’t care about the idea, but I’ve found that the underlying motivations matter so much more – and it unveils the mixture of experiences and conversations that likely will lead an entrepreneur to discover the real opportunity to be solved.