Idea String Theory

Memo Akten — String Theory

On a regular basis I get invited to a blind lunch meeting to discuss a product idea. Though most do not have startup experience, to profile those who approach me would be as impossible as profiling any other entrepreneur.

I talk with teachers, doctors, lawyers, firefighters, men, women, college grads/students, some with no college, and all with a diversity of industry experience. The motives for their pursuits vary as much or more than the ideas they bring to the table. This is all fine, even healthy, and speaks to the beauty that is life.

Important to note is what I like to refer to as the ‘string theory’ of ideas — where genius lies. The best ideas (‘best’ being qualified by an amoral and socially agreeable monetary value worth an exchange of time) will always evolve and be lead by the pursuit of a passionate, unique life experience.

It was an internal puzzle for me-I didn’t get a grade for it…. I sat down with a piece of paper and started to draw-with only imagination to guide me. — Steve Wozniak

In business speak this is typically referred to as vision. It can not be replicated or faked any more than a human life and is tested most purely when side by side world class competition. The genesis of an idea speaks directly to an ideas future value and hints at the depth of its origin.

Indulge me in one example that illustrates perfectly early stage ideation. The example may come across cliche, but it is not well known. It is the startup story of Instagram. How did such a simple idea become so valuable so fast?

Ignore that it is a software company. We are talking string theory ideation. Hardware/Software doesn’t matter — idea origination and vision is what counts. How did the idea of Instagram go from 0 to $1 Billion in two years?

A little known fact is that Kevin Systrom, Instagram Founder, knows a thing or two about top shelf whiskey. While bouncing around non-developer corporate jobs at Google and Nextstop he moonlighted ideas that were trending in tech and that taught him code by default. This was early 2010 when location tracking was hot and Foursquare was killing it.

Kevin was in the the know, but focused on what he loved. He built an app called Burbn. It was simple — check-in and connect with other whiskey connoisseurs. Leveraging the check-in tech buzz he locked in a $500k seed investment from Andreessen Horowitz who he met through local networking; Kevin obviously knew a thing or two about venture backed startups. The seed round was important because it allowed Systrom to hire whom would turn out to be his Instagram Co-Founder, Mike Krieger.

Where Systrom was not a developer, Krieger was; product development got a nitro boost. A non-ironic side note — Mike Krieger worked on a photo-sharing project for a university class aimed at treating seasonal affective disorder. He was otherwise living the life of any other Silicon Valley developer while working at Meebo.

What Kevin and Mike saw users doing in Burbn was not what they got funded for — user engagement wasn’t aggregated around the trendy location based service of checking in. Instead, users were using the app to share and comment on photos. At the time, because of the plethora of photo apps available this type of user experience was not obvious. But, through the lens of Burbn, Kevin and Mike witnessed the high demand real time.

Long story short, after years tinkering to the point of funding a totally different project, Burbn was scrapped. It was trimmed down and given a facelift with a new name. Instagram as we know it was built and launched in an incredibly fast 8 months, 25,000 users unexpectedly showed up on day 1, and the rest is history.

What is the moral of this story? Vision. Iterative validation throughout the product development is a nice secondary short; however, the genius of the idea of Instagram originated from the passionate pursuit of a life experience that provided vision. Kevin Systrom used this vision to strategically raise the bar and evolve his ideas over the course of years; Instagram was a byproduct.

Kevin and Mike’s vision is eloquently stated on their Instagram account, “Discovering — and telling — stories from around the world.”

Starting a business is a long, arduous, and lonely road regardless how great your idea is or how much money you have. Begin with a personal inventory.

How closely aligned is your life with your passions?

Start by trimming the fat. You may need to literally hit the gym! It may be you need to clear physical clutter in your life. Or, maybe you need to make a life change that allows your time to be spent more passionately.

Whatever it is, keep that flow and let the ideas roll!