I recently came across this story on TechCrunch about Fitbit's new $12m business Fitness Tracker Fitbit Raises $12M To Market New Wi-Fi Enabled Smart Scale, Aria. Like all ideas, someone else thought of this one well before Fitbit thought it up. In fact when I thought it up eight years ago, I probably wasn't the first to think it up either.
But being a relatively good idea that I thought I had at the time, seeing this funding got me thinking. Why didn't I pursue that idea further seven years ago? Whether you are an entrepreneur, an intrapreneur, or even a wantrapreneur. When you have ideas that you think are good, what holds you back from pursuing them? Is it fear, is it being lost at where to start, or is it a lack of skill/capital? The same is true if you are investing - be it day trading, investing your retirements account, or managing your employee stock purchase plan. If you have an idea to improve your investing strategy, what holds you back from pursuing it? Is it fear of losing money?
Ownership is a big one. What I mean by ownership is that when it is your idea - you own everything about it. This can be tough for a lot of people.
It means that no one else made a decision that you are following. It means that you can't honestly place blame elsewhere. It means that when you succeed or fail - YOU are the only one that is responsible. Yes there are other factors that might make it hard for you to succeed. Yes there are people and ideas that are better than yours and they may beat you. There are also people and ideas that are not better than yours... but do you want to find out what sorts of competition is out there for an idea that you personally dreamed up?
As we go through school we spend a lot of time studying things that other people thought up, living by a schedule that someone else created, even making art and music the way that someone else prescribed. The ability for us as we get older to break out of that cycle of safety that we are taught to appreciate is hard. I'm not talking about thinking outside of the box or any of those cheesy phrases people use to think differently. I am talking about the latent idea in our society that we should follow the ideas of other people. We encourage the use of someone else's ideas too often and we reward highly people who execute on those ideas. We rarely encourage true ownership as we raise our young and the result of this is a difficulty with assuming ownership when our young grow old.
Starting is another big one. I mean actually starting. Not thinking about the idea more. Not dreaming about all the money you'll make. Not dreaming about all the people you will affect. But actually starting - putting a solid definition around your idea, talking to people who will fund your idea (managers, investors, customers, etc.), talking people into helping with your idea, defining what success of your idea might look like in the near term, figuring out the different ways that your idea can be leveraged, etc.
The difference is that these are tangible things that you can make tangible progress on. These are not *just* discussions over beers with your spouse or friend. These are actions that you need to take to turn your vision into a startup. Actually going from having the idea (or many ideas) to owning the idea is hard enough. Going from owning that idea to starting to pursue that idea is MUCH harder. It means real work and a lot of times that means long hours, stress, etc. It also means that you are pursuing your idea and bringing something to the world that didn't and couldn't exist before.
Dan Shapiro does a good job explaining what that looked like for him with a recent startup he built and sold. This was the keynote at the 2011 NWEN Entrepreneur University and is well worth the time to watch it. He talks about the difficulty of having an idea and actually owning the idea and then STARTING...
Skills and Capital
Skills and Capital are an illusion. I include them here as a category because I hear and feel too often that this is a reason not to pursue one's ideas. These are not reasons though. If there is a good idea, the skills and the capital are never far away. As evidenced by the fact that SkillShare was started for 5k. Remember the first two problems above? The Ownership & Starting? Well there are a lot of people who run into those problems - and because they run into those problems - they are really excited to use their skills and capital on your great idea!
Yes you have to convince them. Yes that is hard.
If you can't convince a couple of people to get behind your idea in the first place - I really don't see how you have asserted yourself as the owner of that idea and actually started pursuing it. If you think you have taken ownership of it and started... but you still can't convince anyone to work with you on it - you need to decide how passionate you are about the idea. You should probably start with a co-founder, of course picking a co-founder takes some thought as well.
Did you hear Dan griping about the lack of skills and capital in his keynote? All I heard was a bunch of creative ways Dan navigated the need to have skills and capital when he pursued his idea. It is no different for investing or pursuing an idea inside of a larger company.
For me, eight years ago it was all three. I was a bit naive and didn't understand what truly owning an idea meant. I come up with ideas all the time, but standing behind them - championing and defending them was not something that I was taught. I see this with a lot of people and am starting to believe more and more that this is a failing in how our society raises our young. Of course at the time I had no idea this was part of the problem. I didn't know where to start and thought that I lacked the skills and capital... and thus would never make it happen. Well it was true, I didn't know where to start, but I was confused about what I needed to have to start and just how to go about getting those things. I thought I needed to be able to do the hardware integration between the scale and a wireless adapter. I thought I needed to be able to develop the software that would send/receive the weight data so that it could be tracked. I thought I needed to grow a small customer base. I thought I needed to accomplish all of this before I really got anyone else on board.
Truth is that I did need to understand facets of all those things - but to start?
I really only needed to work on a model of how this technology would generally work. I really only needed to find one or two people to work with who was already accomplished in the hardware & software integration realm and myself focus on that financing and customer base problem. This could easily be a side project for a couple of people or we could pursue it as something bigger. I definitely saw the larger problems and made a decision not to be in a position to deal with them. I probably should have pursued the idea - but alas that is a lesson learned in life.
My decision was as if I were driving down a street and pulled up to a nearly deserted intersection with no stop signs or traffic lights, I slowed down and looked around. As I looked around, off in the distance, I saw several major intersections. These intersections had big traffic lights, roundabouts, and a lot of heavy traffic. I heard the faint sounds from the intersections - honking and cursing mostly - and thought to myself, I haven't been through an intersection like that before. It looks difficult to navigate and I am just not equipped to go through it. So instead of proceeding down the open road ahead of me picking up a few passengers and preparing my vehicle along the way, I pulled over to the side of the road. Eventually, as evidenced FitBit's funding, I was watching other cars pass me on the road that were not in too much different shape than I was when I pulled over.