This past week I was working with teams of four or five techies in my startup Entrepreneurship class at Cornell University.
What struck me was how tricky it is to get techies to see the difference between "better" and "BIG".
Great startups find BIG problems to solve.
Companies that get started and go sideways focus on making something BETTER.
Words ending in "er" are four letter words to VCs and experienced startup employees: faster, better, cheaper are not firing up their eagerness to join your new enterprise.
The founders who focus on solving a basic problem that ails a huge number of people produce the great startups. That takes courage and conviction, confidence and determination. There is a lot of emotion in making that decision.
To test your idea, ask yourself "Has this been done before?" Then ask "What that is similar has been done before?" Great ideas for startups find that idea is fresh, new, has not been done before. And the similar solutions are old generations of clunky solutions. You want to move from a ho-hum idea on to one that is very exciting, that has a lot of "WOW!" in it.
TWIST YOUR IDEA :
Use your first idea to begin a process of altering it week after week, twisting it into different forms that solve different problems. That twisting process will advance your initial idea, most likely shifting it to focus on a very different problem to solve. That is what serial entrepreneurs are terrific at doing.
Here is an example for you to think about: "Build a better game" is not going to lead your startup to greatness. But as you ponder building new games, you realize there is big decision you have to make: On what devices (computers, game boxes, smartphones, pads) should your game run on? It is a lot of work to make a game run on one operating system and one device. How about a dozen in various combinations? Now that is a BIG problem needing a solution.
So how about creating a language that can be used to build one game that works on the many different devices?
But hard to do (good barrier to competitors).
That is Exciting!
And yes, there is a startup that is focused on doing just what I have mentioned. It is Game Closure. The company has built HTML5. It is a set of standards that lets Web browsers understand animations, videos, graphics, and other multimedia content without the need to download a plug-in like Adobe's Flash.
You can imagine how you might have come up with this idea yourself: as a game developer you grew frustrated at the basic problem of cross platform game playing software coding. You set out to solve it with a couple of ways, tried a few in the lab, kept on thinking and twisting your idea, and then "presto!" you get the idea that we have just discussed.
That is how to move from an initial idea to a great idea. Twist your first idea round and round until it transforms into a solution for a really BIG problem.
That is how you attract the great people and great financial backers.
BOTTOM LINE: Beginning with your initial idea, start twisting it and keep on going until it becomes -- in its transformed shape -- a solution to a BIG problem. That will be the foundation for building an unfair competitive advantage. It is how serial entrepreneurs do it. So can you.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!