How to Start Big Ideas in 5 Steps
Everyone has great ideas. Everyone. There are many, many steps between the spark of an idea and the launch of it into the world. And even more steps between taking the launch of that idea and building it into a financially successful product or business or movement. Yet it always begins with that first idea. No matter the size, scale or world-changing quality of your idea, there are steps to take to get it out into the world. To be clear, these are *my* idiosyncratic steps - there are as many variations on this theme as there are ideas in the world. But I took the time to write them down. So. There is that.
1) Talk it out. This is perhaps the single most important step. And it is of the Lather, Rinse, Repeat variety: so seemingly obvious, yet without it, the whole process just falls apart. You need to explain your idea to other people. Start with your inner circle, and then broaden out in concentric circles until you will find yourself, one day, pitching a fancy deck to a roomful of strangers asking them for money.
In the same way they say if you can explain complex math to a 6 year old you really get math, (note: I am still kind of working on this one) when you can explain your idea in crisp, compelling language to someone who has no vested interest in making you feel good and they both A) get it and B) think it is a good idea, then you really have something. Talking about it makes it real. People will ask you questions, and you will be forced to answer them. They may know other people who can help you. It is a life-giving action for ideas.
2) Be honest with yourself. I find this to be the best fall-back advice for almost my entire career, yet it has important meaning here. What is your motivation and your end-goal? Everyone will say to make a lot of money. Fabulous. Yet, a smaller piece of a real thing is better than 100% of something in your head. Do you have and need your full-time job and this is something you want to work on during evenings and weekends? Do you see this as side income? Is it coming out of a passion or hobby you would devote time to anyway? Do you truly want to own and run a business - like worry about health care and employees and budgets and all the non-sexy stuff? Are you going to work with other people? Is this idea launching you into a new career that you have always wanted? Because, there is a huge difference between having an idea and trying to support yourself on that idea. The answers to what you truly want will influence the path to launching the idea. There is no right or wrong answer. Just information. Know as much about what you want as you can and pick the path that suits your wants and life best.
3) Write it down. This is one of the hardest steps. Don’t skip it. It doesn’t have to be pretty out of the gate. Just like talking it out helps it take shape, writing it down gives your idea further dimension. You can use any format you are comfortable with: Word or Keynote or Powerpoint, and try to explain:
The Why: the market need or gap you saw and why we care. The What: what it is in clear simple language and how it solves the need The How: how’s it going to work? Do people buy it in stores, on-line, join a movement, buy a subscription, how? Here’s where you ask yourself how it makes money and how much it costs (to buy and produce). The Who: who’s your customer and who do you need as partners? Partners to help produce it and partners to help sell it.
Don’t get hung up on right answers early on, each one of these points has tons of other questions embedded in them that will be uncovered as you go. Having a list of questions which need answers is a great place for Step #5: you just start working through the list. But you need to write down as much as you do know because it is an important step to making it real. Then share it with people, get feedback and keep adding to your document until you have that fancy deck and can go pitch someone.
4) Get a co-mentor. My co-mentor, Sara Leslie (whom I have known since my first job out of college) and I wrote a piece on FastCompany.com about the value of co-mentors. It is invaluable to those trying to launch something new in the world. This is different from a friend or family member. It is a professional contact who helps keep you on track with your goals, and vice versa. Once your idea is out of your brain, there are still lots of hard and slow steps to bring it to the next level. Making a regular commitment to check-in with a peer on your progress will make help you take the idea more seriously, and give it a much higher chance of success.
5) Break it down into small steps. There is a minimal version of your idea that will test your hypothesis. It may be a prototype or a Beta version or a test campaign. To get there, you have to start doing some work. A lot of work can be done at home, on your computer - reading, researching, and creating.
Many of us (me too) get overwhelmed with the enormity, cost and complexity of launching something. I like to break things into tiny, tiny bits when facing something new and/or complex or something I just don’t like to do.
Start with online research of similar things. I am always shocked when people want to talk to me about an idea and then they haven’t Googled it themselves. Shocked. (And just because someone has done your exact idea doesn’t necessarily mean it is dead in the water. But that is another post.) Google the crap out of it. Read industry articles and follow some blogs in that area. You can email bloggers directly with specific questions. Many will answer you. (See Step #1). Give yourself micro-goals. This is where the co-mentor (Step #4) comes in. A goal can be, “I will spend 1 hour Googling and reading about X tonight.” Another night it might be, “I will find a 3D printing company that might work for my idea” or “I will decide on a business plan template.” Done. One small thing. If you are hung up on the one thing you decided, and nothing is happening, break it down smaller. Or simply start with polishing your own on-line presence. Use social media to follow relevant sources and get your LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter accounts ready to network. When all else fails, go back to Step #2. There might be something that is stopping you that has nothing to do with the idea, and everything to do with the simple fact that you don’t actually find reading about plastics that fascinating and “Game of Thrones” is calling. But if that idea keeps coming back to tap you on the shoulder, and you feel like if you saw someone else do it you would never forgive yourself, it might be time to save Thrones for binge watching and start talking about your idea. (Step #1)
I didn’t write an official Step #6, but here it is anyway: