Good ideas aren't as important as you think they are

  Wednesday, March 21, 2012 » Thoughts

Yesterday I’ve had an interesting although short conversation with a long time friend. One of those conversations that are usually accompanied with a couple of beers where you talk about life, the universe and everything.

Unfortunately we didn’t have beers.

Anyway, one of the topics that came up was founding our own start up and changing the world for good. Followed by a good dozen of excuses not to do so.

Not enough time, lack of good ideas, it’s not the right time, and many more.

The lack of good ideas thing kept nagging me. I kept thinking about it and wanted to share my newfound view:

A wrong perception

People still carry this image that all you need is one huge idea, followed by one or two nights in the garage and you’ll be the next multi-millionaire. Unfortunately, things don’t work that way. The idea actually doesn’t really matter that much. A lot of other things are way more important, or at least just as important. Obviously the implementation itself, but also timing, marketing and a couple of other things. I’ll get to those later, but first some more thoughts on the ideas.

Huge ideas are usually very tiny at first

About 5 to 6 years ago, still in apprenticeship, we had this project where we wanted to make setting up source control repositories easy as pie. Basically some kind of GitHub.

The idea was wonderful, yet we didn’t create GitHub. We failed to recognise the full potential of our idea. We weren’t visionary enough. As such we aimed for too little and created something barely useful.

Having ideas is easy, it’s hard to recognise those with potential

One persons problem is another’s business opportunity

Our GitHub idea was triggered by a requirement. Most ideas are.

What issues are others facing?
Could you create a product to solve these issues?

Listen to people and keep your eyes open. Treating problems as opportunities will result in a whole lot of ideas.

Timing matters

Even more so if part of the products value comes from its community.

YouTube, Facebook and Google+ are great examples.

If YouTube launched back when people had 56K modems it would have died the day it launched. Nobody would have had much joy waiting hours just to see someone laughing in the camera. Yet, if they launched only one or two months later somebody else might have taken their place.

Getting people to know about your product

The founders of Stackoverflow used their blogs popularity to get some early adopters. Initially they kept the user base small in order to let the product mature and get some quality content. Once it was ready they opened it up.

Google did something similar with Gmail.

Those approaches require you to somehow already have quite a large audience. But even if you don’t have that. Sites like reddit or digg might give you a chance to kick-start your product. (Or if its not mature enough, condemn it to death)

Skill and expertise

If you don’t know how to boil water, you’ll have a hard time creating a delicious meal. The same applies to developing software.

Developers are (or should be) used to learn new things on a daily basis. So this shouldn’t be a game stopper.

If you lack skill, practise more or find others to help you out.

Ability and willingness to take risks

Of all these things, this is probably the only valid excuse. If you have to feed some kids and debts to pay off, taking the risks involved in founding a company might be too high.

On the other side, if you neither have debts nor children, you’re free to do whatever you like.


It all boils down on how bad you want it. The only person stopping you is probably you.