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Got a Startup Idea? Ask These Questions First

These two questions just might save you years and years of pain

Ryan Hoover
Aug 27, 2013 · 3 min read

This essay is in response to this week’s Startup Edition topic, “How do you turn your idea into a startup?

“Hey, Ryan! I have an awesome startup idea to disrupt LEGO’s! It’s called Mego.”

“Tell me about it, Steve.” I respond.

“Ok, say you want to build your house, dog, or anything really, out of LEGO’s. With Mego, you simply launch the mobile app, snap a few pics, upload them, and we mail you a custom blueprint and Mego pieces to assemble your creation!” Steve rattled in a single breath.

“Interesting. So what excites you about toys and Mego?” I questioned.

“Uh, well, I loved LEGO’s as a kid and think this would be really cool.”

I further prompted, “Do you have experience or connections in toy manufacturing? Any idea of the level of marketing required and the economic feasibility to make this a success?”

“No and no. I haven’t looked into that yet. I just put up a landing page to measure interest and started looking for a developer,” Steve responded with decreasing enthusiasm.

We’ve all fallen into this trap. We come up with a new startup idea, get excited, and immediately start running experiments to validate our hypotheses or even worse, begin writing code. Lean startup provides a useful framework for identifying needs and measuring market demand but there’s a step before all of this that some eager entrepreneurs (and wantrepreneurs) skip. I call them the pre-requisite P’s:

Passion

Before jumping into your next startup idea, ask yourself:

Is this a problem I’d be excited to pursue for 4+ years?

Despite the number of perceived overnight successes, reinforced by demo days and TechCrunch launches, startups are anything but. It takes several years of building and marketing to create a successful business. During this time, entrepreneurs face inevitable struggles that, without passion, are incredibly difficult to overcome.

I’ve made this mistake myself. Nearly a year ago, I had the idea to create “Uber for laundry”. In San Francisco, a washer and dryer is a luxury that most cannot afford. I named it Laundry Mate, a mobile app for on-demand laundry service. I built a landing page for my fake app to measure demand and collect email addresses. And then I took a step back and asked myself, “Do I really want to be in the laundry business?” The answer, if you couldn’t guess, was “no”.

Passion can come from many places. For some, it is a feverish desire to solve their own problem. Some get excited about a particular market. Others are simply passionate about building a business and making money. Whatever your passion, be prudent and introspect your true motivations.

Pragmatism

I fully support ambitious entrepreneurs but sometimes ambition and excitement blinds them from reality. We’re not all Elon Musk and must honestly evaluate our ability to execute on the idea.

I’ve spoken to several people that underestimate the level of effort, capital, or marketing required to make their idea a success. “It’ll go viral!” is never the right assumption.

A friend of mine once pitched an idea for a social, restaurant discovery app. The concept was similar to Yelp but with more emphasis on recommendations from friends. Let’s assume people want a more social Yelp. Even if that were true, the product must achieve massive user growth to become a successful business. Not to mention, it would be in direct competition with Yelp, Foursquare, and other incumbents in this crowded space. Some entrepreneurs have the experience and capital to pull this off. Not my friend.

I’m not advocating entrepreneurs to never swing for the fences but sometimes a base hit is your best strategy to score. Before swinging the bat, be pragmatic, evaluate the field, and recognize your strengths and weaknesses.

Before jumping into your next startup idea, evaluate the pre-requisite P’s. Am I truly passionate about this? Is this pragmatically achievable considering my skill-set, capital, and market conditions?

If you answer “no” to either question, reconsider the idea. You have many ideas. Choose the right one.

Have you made this mistake before? Let me know on Twitter (@rrhoover) and subscribe to my email list for more chit-chat about product and startups.

Visit Startup Edition to read more on this topic from other entrepreneurs, hackers, and designers.

Photo credit: Lars Plougmann

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