The Great Idea…

Ideas are a dime dozen. Great Ideas even. But progress toward making that idea a reality- moving it toward actually solving a customer’s real-world problem- rarely happens.

More often than not you forget that Great Idea until someone else comes up with it, stops talking about it ,and does something with it. You say to yourself: “I had that exact same idea!” I know-I’ve done it a lot of times.

Unfortunately it’s probably too late to do something about it by then. Someone else has first-mover advantage, paying customers, a company foundation to support the on-going evolution and expansion of the Great Idea, and you’re left doing what you were doing before: not changing the world.

Brainstorming with your buddies, talking with your classmates, thinking deeply; all great ways to come up with a Great Idea. But you can’t stop there. You’ve got to take the next step and actually do something.

° see if there’s competition
° see how your idea stacks up against it
° talk to potential customers- e.g. “If my product does this, would you use it? Buy it?”
° start prototyping or getting someone else to prototype it for you
° get some advice about how to move it forward from there

But do something. Recognize that progress doesn’t happen if you stop with the first step (coming up with the idea) rather its an “idea-evaluation-execution” process. By quickly taking Great Ideas to the prototype stage after actively engaging in customer inquiry and assessment you can learn a TON about whether your idea will fly in the marketplace- or even if there is a marketplace.

Your ideas don’t have to be unique. Facebook was far from unique. So was Google. But they both did something better that the competition and won more customers. The key phrase in the previous sentence is: they both did something.

So do something. About your idea. Or it just doesn’t matter.


4 Steps the Epiphany by Steve Blank

Who’s my customer?

Who’s my customer?

One of the companies I advise offers a free service to students: Job postings from newspapers targeting recent graduates. The newspapers actually pay the company to post newspaper listings in front of her targeted students on the internet and via mobile phones. So who’s the customer?

For years she’s seen the folks who actually pay her as her customer. But they’re not her only customer. The students looking at the ads, the visitors, are her customer as well. Even though they’ve never paid her a dime. In fact- I’d argue that the students are her most important customers.

The real value of this company’s business is his ability to attract, and engage, students- and get them to act on these job ads. Which increases (dramatically) the amount of money the newspapers are willing to pay him.

Of course, attracting, engaging, and capturing these students is even more valuable. Knowing who her visitors are, and asking them what they want, will allow her to develop and deliver other actionable content (read- ads, products, and services) that solve problems for her customers in the future.

Her visitors will all, in an ideal world, not need to be looking at the employment ads she’s currently serving them at some point in the near future. They’ll find their dream job, be happily employed, and moving on in life.

She currently has a ‘lifetime visitor’ horizon of about 3 months- basically the amount of time it takes to find a job or give up. She can change that by looking at her visitors as customers- and find out what problems they may have in the future. And address those problems.

So what she does now, how she identifies and solves their needs today, AND how she prepares them to keep visiting in the future will be the difference between her being a ‘pretty good, cash-flow positive’ business and a home-run.

In every business today we have multiple customers. Some pay us with money. Some by visiting our site. You’ve got to look good and hard at who your customers are and make sure you’re providing value to all of them. And keep in mind- your suppliers, service providers, and your employees are all making decisions about being your customer as well.

If you’re the smartest guy in the room – get out!

If you’re the smartest guy in the room – get out!

You too girl. Seriously.

I attended an event recently that was a ‘private gathering’ of some incredible people. Everybody spent about $10k to attend. Which was an interesting segmenting exercise to some degree. Anybody who can drop $10k on an event is in a special demographic- they make money. At least enough to attend this kind of event.

But what was really cool about this group wasn’t that they had some spare cash. It was that everybody there was intellectually gifted. I mean really gifted. And it reminded me of the old adage above. And reinforced the value of surrounding yourself with people who challenge you, confront you, and make you raise your game. (It also brought back the painful memory of my first ‘C’ at Stanford…when I discovered that I was no longer a big fish in my small pond…)

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You are. So look closely at those five people. And make a decision about whether they’re holding you back (easy to deal with- jettison them), pulling you down (same), or moving you forward (find more like them and keep raising the bar…)

It’s hard to let people go out of your life…especially if you don’t have any reference points. So- find a way to start expanding your horizons: SIG meet-ups, on-line forums, industry conferences (which often have tremendous student discounts,) are just a few ideas. Get uncomfortable and surround yourself with people who hold you accountable to what you say you’re going to do, who make you think about the other side of an argument, and who won’t blithely accept what you say as the ‘message from the mountain.’

If you’re a ‘C’ student- hang out with the ‘A’ students. It’ll change your view-point and probably change your GPA. It did mine.

If you want to change the world then you’re going to need a group around you who can help you make stuff happen in a big way. Start surrounding yourself with them now. Remember that if ‘one of your five’ isn’t actively moving your forward- they’re probably like carrying an extra 50 pounds on your trek up Kilimanjaro. You may not feel it at first…but you will… you will.

So- this event with Tim Ferris a couple of months ago – totally cool. Made a dozen new friends. All of them are smarter than me. And I really, really, like that.