Good Ideas

by bsrubin on September 21, 2012

I’ve recently been speaking with tons of folks who about good ideas to start massive companies.  A couple themes are beginning to reverberate.  Here are some recent comments:

  • Building huge value in software these days is more like the publishing business – it’s awesome you have hardware experience Ben – that’s more valuable in this new world.  via Andy Payne
  • The recent fracas where David Sacks (Yammer) said it’s going to be tough to build real value because big tech companies will beat you to it.
  • I’ve been listening intently when the folks at Founders Fund speak.  One message: ‘find ideas that are good – but seem bad to others’  PG’s take and Thiel on secrets.
  • And last – I have enough hubris to believe that the right founders make excellent decisions and build the best companies.  To enable this – founders must retain control.

So lets consider three binary variables when thinking about a startup idea:

  • Good Idea or Bad Idea
    • Start here – does the idea deliver tremendous value?
  • Seems Like a Good Idea or a Bad Idea
    • If it seems like a good idea – expect tons of competition from both new and established players.  Not impossible to win – but more timing and luck come into it as well as excellent execution.
  • Easy or Hard
    • Easy stuff will be easily copied once people realize you are on to something.  Makes it much harder to win.  How many folks are competing with Uber and iRobot vs. those who compete with Instragram and Pinterest?  So pick problems have real stuff that need to be solved and can be defended.
  • Control
    • I happen to think that companies that don’t remain in the control of a passionate founder are less likely to achieve world-changing outcomes.  So pick an idea that you can build a structure around where control is retained – this relates to who you need to recruit, money raised (and when), likelihood to build a successful independent company, etc.

Now let’s try this on a few startup ideas I’ve heard recently.

Company that delivers fresh, healthy, raw food in pre-packaged ‘meals’ with quick-cook instructions to your house.

  • Good idea? – Nutrition is a huge thorny problem and this is an interesting place to start.  Not sure yet.
  • Seems like a Bad Idea.  Dumb dumb dumb.  Direct to consumer challenges, food deliver and logistics, local and hard to scale, been tried before, big competitors have advantages.
  • Hard.  For all of the above reasons – but if it worked you’d have put up big barriers.
  • Control?.  Not sure – may be bootstrapable – but just as likely to require big investments in a space where tons of expertise is needed and where it may be hard for a small company to succeed alone.

Turn the front-facing camera on a smartphone/laptop into a passive health sensor that measures things like heart rate, respiration, facial expressions whenever you use the thing.

  • Good idea?  Hard to tell – would the data be actionable/usable?  Where would the business model be?
  • Seems like a Good Idea.  We are increasingly measuring our health and acting on it.  The technology is available.  Makes sense.
  • Easy?  I actually think this would be reasonably hard to do right the first time.  But once that was done – it would be easy to copy and hard to protect.
  • Control Works.  Wouldn’t need much financing, easy to remain independent, etc.

Seems like a useful set of filters.  Thoughts welcome.



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