The Fallacy of Chasing Startup Ideas

Over the past week, I’ve caught up with a few friends that are in the process of searching for their next startup idea. One is an EIR, another a founder looking for a new idea for their startup. Less than a year ago, I was on a similar quest.  As much as the passion to build a company is a noble cause and one I deeply relate to, I don’t think you can find it by broadly searching for the right idea.

I believe there are only 2 ways to find a great startup idea: Experience and Passion

1) Experience

You’ve worked in an industry for years. You know all the inefficiencies in the market and how terrible the existing solutions are. You are the target customer or you know them because of regular interactions.  Because of your experience you have the connections to land your first customers with relative ease and likely already know what the Minimum Viable Product would be.

2) Passion

You may not know the industry well, but you’re so fired up about the idea you can’t sleep at night. You want this solution to exist, you know the world is not complete without it and you’ll run through walls to make it happen. This fire also is likely to give you a level of understanding of the end user that will translate to a great product you want to use.

So which is more important?

If you’re starting a B2B startup, Experience is more important as it will help with those key early sales. For consumer startups, Passion is more important, since often new tactics are needed that industry experience would not help as they’d be outdated.  Ideally, you’ll have both as it will help get your venture off on the right foot and have the wherewithal to survive the trough of sorrow.

The problem I found in searching for a startup idea for 9 months and what I think my friends will struggle with is that without Passion for an industry nor Experience within it, you’ll be unlikely to magically come up with an idea on your own. If you’re really determined to start a company despite this, then your best bet is to find a founder to co-found with who has Passion or Experience (the best startups have both) or join a company you can learn a lot from in a high impact position(what I did by joining KISSmetrics to run product).

3 thoughts on “The Fallacy of Chasing Startup Ideas

  1. I feel like you are on to something, but this comes off as topical or perhaps in the wrong context. What I hear you saying is “these are the things that will give you the best chance to execute well enough and find success” and not “these traits lead to the best ideas.” In order for me to agree with your argument, I would have to hear what you think constitutes a great idea.

    • Willis,

      I think a great idea solves a deep, high priority, customer pain and creates efficiency in a market that is disruptive. This means it’s a problem that deeply affects someone with the budget to do something about it and the desire to use that budget for it.

      The efficiency comes from leveraging new technology or market developments that allow you to reach customers at scale. This may be new ways to acquire customers, radically cheaper costs thanks to things like Amazon EC2 and viral tools. It can also simply meaning solving a problem much more smoothly than the incumbent your disrupting that got content, old and bloated with their solution.

      Both the experience and passion are keys to finding these opportunities and having the best chance of success.


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