i·de·a - a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.
Ideas get thrown around a lot these days, but there's no clear protocol for talking about them. You hear it all the time, you’ve probably even said it yourself; “I have a million dollar app/startup idea.” Now this is just an expression people use because it sounds more exciting than "I have a good idea," but it also promotes the misunderstanding that ideas in themselves can be worth something. An idea only has value when combined with proper execution.
The purpose of this guide is to help hopeful entrepreneurs identify what "phase" their idea is in, and provide basic steps to add value through execution.
Phase 1 - Ideation
An experience, conversation, or some creative thinking brings a problem to light, and you think, “this [problem] sucks, it would suck a lot less if…” and boom! The idea hits you. It might have been a more eloquent revelation than that, but you get it. At this point you're not sure how good the idea is...but let’s assume that you like it enough to find out. So what now?
Talk to people about it
Your friends, family, coworkers, professors, etc. First explain the problem and how it led you to the idea, then you can discuss the possibilities. Many polite friends will say "it sounds great," so try to be objective in your conversations to incite some productive feedback and collaboration. Some won’t like or understand it though; develop a tough skin and take note of the holes they poke.
Do some research.
Go Google crazy to find out whatever you can. Mainly, does this already exist? If it doesn’t exist yet, why not? It helps to be a domain expert yourself, this step will be much easier. If you're not, get comfy because you've got a lot of studying to do. That, or get a trusted expert to help out.
Stop to re-envision the product.
Its very unlikely that your original idea made it through research and feedback unscathed; use your new understanding to shape the new and improved version. If you struggle with capturing the vision, Phase 2 will help.
Phase 2 - Conception
You've identified the problem and found that your idea for a solution is unique (or better than existing solutions by at least 10x). After spending some time explaining it to your friends and getting feedback, you can picture it in your head. Phase 2 is all about collecting your thoughts and getting them down "on paper." Writing it out forces you to think through the details, and will serve as a rough beginning for your business plan.
Expand your why.
Start by writing out every why you can think of. You might have an overarching problem, but what are all the reasons that problem sucks so much?
List out the who.
Identify your customers/users and other stakeholders. Ideally you yourself are the target user, or at least you understand the target user very well. Who thinks this problem sucks? Who else benefits from this problem being solved? Also, who is your competition? Be as specific as you can with these, "this helps everyone" won't fly...unless you can prove it. On the other end, having a very limited and specific who can be dangerous as well.
Identify the how.
Think, how can my idea help the who with their why? By assigning a how to each why and who, you’ll effectively be building a list of features/functionality. Brainstorm the hell out of this, exhaust yourself with how's. Don’t worry if some of what you come up sounds crazy/impossible, write them all down and then go through to prioritize.
Wrapping it all together
Now that you’ve got all that down, you should now be able to say what this really is! You don’t have to name it or anything yet, but you know enough to give the clearest possible answer to, “what is your idea?” You’re going to validation next, which means talking to people about it, which means you need to know what it is.
Cover it all with where and when? Sure. You should identify where the best place(s) to test/launch (preferably wherever you live), and where you could go next. This is a bit of a stretch, but when could help shape marketing strategy. If you can identify when your who experiences the problem, you’ll get an idea of potential avenues to promote your solution.
Sketch it out, and don’t worry about it being pretty, for now. The idea is to map out the general flow of how the who’s will use what-ever you’re building.
To be continued...
Part 2 of this guide will be coming soon - get ready because it only gets harder from here.
Hungry for more? Here's some stuff to keep you busy and prepare you for Part 2:
- Wireframes- The rough sketches you made serve as a good foundation, but you'll need something more official from here on out. Phase 3 is all about validation, and its hard to sell someone on notebook doodles. Wireframe creation is a whole practice in itself, but you can find enough tips and tools online to get you started.
- Pitch decks- If wireframes represent your product, a pitch deck will represent the business. You're going to start testing/selling/pitching soon and you'll want to have something to point to. You can find tons of resources online for this as well, but you're essentially laying out your 5 W's + 1 H in an organized, professional, and convincing presentation.
- Team- As mentioned, the next couple phases are a doozy, especially if you're a team of one. Identify your own strengths and weaknesses, and seek out others that compliment your skill set. The right co-founders can make a world of difference, but can be hard to find. That doesn't mean you have to give all your ownership away though; advisors and mentors are great. We'll cover 'building a team' another time.