Ideas. Are You a Consumer or Builder?

What do you do with your ideas?

I swear on everything Holy that I wrote the sub-title above last week and by *complete* chance, my wife bought me this book yesterday . It was on my pillow when I got home last night. #bizarro x100

In the imaginary non-fiction thriller called, Ideas, there are 2 characters:
1. The consumer and
2. the builder

Consumers may buy an idea.
Consumers may invest in an idea.
Consumers may love or hate an idea.
Consumers may never become introduced to an idea.
Consumers may even have their own idea.

What separates the consumer from the builder is that, while the consumer will whirr around the ecosystem of an idea, they’re only an audience to what’s being built.

But every now and then, a leap occurs. A consumer becomes a builder. How?

Most of the stories you’ll read mention a consumer that’s been stuck in a dead-end job while having an idea burning a whole in the back of their skull. And through some set of circumstances, good or bad, an opportunity to branch out and build something of their own presents itself. Some act on it, some clam up and head back to their assigned seat.

For me, the leap came easy. I was fired, twice. Then it became a simple calculation of the agony of cleaning up my LinkedIn profile and interviewing outweighing the myriad of risks of building my idea. A little bravado and ignorance (read: assuming Lady Luck would appear at some point) can also help get you over the hump — I leaned on both, heavily.

That means when you hear people say “The best thing that happened to me was getting fired!” sometimes they’re not being dramatic. Sometimes it’s absolute truth.

But there are hundreds of paths to becoming a builder… I was probably 7 when I first realized I wanted, no, needed to [eventually] become a builder. But fear and guilt and bi-weekly paychecks kept me tucked away in the cozy world of consumerism till I was 31.

Others act on that impulse much sooner. Maybe they have nothing to lose. Maybe fear of failure isn’t so bone-chilling.

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with one of those rare-breed builders who repeatedly launches ideas that consumers love and pay for — Dennis Mortensen has managed to build 3 companies to date that have been acquired for hefty exits from companies of Yahoo’s ilk. And he’s at it again with Amy, aka x.ai.

Amy is Dennis’ fourth venture that’s off to a blazing start. She is one of my favorite and most heavily adopted products I can ever remember using. She’s changed how I conduct an integral part of my business. She’s good to me in ways most humans cannot be, and for that I’m happy to be an early adopter and vocal advocate of her benefits.

When I asked Dennis how he’s managed to bottle lightning so routinely, he shared 5 points that have worked well for him over the years.

  1. Whenever he feels a pain, he writes down 1 sentence about it.
  2. As the time approaches to pick his next idea, he does as much research on the topic as he can. Then he calls in a core group of co-builders to beat it up. If the idea survives, they get to work.
  3. While he’s building that idea, he does nothing else. No pivots, no side gigs, no investing (ever), no advising (ever). He focuses only on that idea. At most, he jots other ideas down in his book and then quickly closes it.
  4. When the right exit opportunity is locked up, he stays on as long as it takes to integrate and see it through. It’s still his baby, even if someone else owns it now.
  5. He gives himself minor R&R time (probably less than you or I would take) and then opens his book of ideas, culls through it and picks the next winner.

Kinda makes you think … I can do that.

Truth is, you can.

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