If you ask an entrepreneur with any kind of experience, he will tell you that start-up ideas are a dime a dozen. What is really difficult to achieve, and therefore valuable, is the implementation of one of these ideas into both a product and a business.
Not so long ago a friend of mine and I decided to sacrifice a week of holidays (this was during my recent ten-year stint as an employee) to spend time together booting a start-up. For much of the time we talked, researched our area of interest, despaired at the number of competitors in our space, scratched our assumptions every few hours and proceeded to strategize more.
In fact we did nothing but strategize for an entire week. Our start-up never got off the ground – although we figured we had some pretty novel ideas that might just enable us to make a mark. When you read start-up post mortems offered up in hindsight by recovering entrepreneurs, you find that they regret the endless hours of brainstorming. If given the chance to start over, they would simply get to work on prototyping and getting early feedback from real clients.
Because that’s what this start-up thing really boils down to. It’s not the most novel idea that wins – it’s who actually gets it done. Peering from outside the day-to-day grind of one-to-one marketing, bug fixing, communication, customer relationship, growth hacking, admin and devops, it’s easy to miss it. Famous start-up stories point to so-called overnight successes and heap praise on a visionary entrepreneur for the brilliance and simplicity of his business idea. But they gloss over the months and years of toil, repeated failures, rejections and just plain hard work.
If you want to measure a start-up’s chances of success, the perceived merits of its central idea is probably the least important thing to look at. It’s difficult to predict which ideas are the really good ones – and intuition is seldom a good guide in this. Most successful start-ups have tweaked their main ideas, or changed them outright, before reaching product-market fit. A company that perseveres on the wrong idea will fail – and what’s worse they might take a long time to fail and spend a lot of investors’ money along the way.
So what should you look for in a start-up to estimate their likelihood of success? I’m a budding entrepreneur myself, so who I am I to tell you, but consider the four questions below:
Will the team be able to execute?
Do they have the needed skills to get there?
How fast are they going to market?
When will they run out of money?
If you have other views as to what makes a start-up likely to succeed, please share – I’d be more than happy to discuss them with you!
In my next blog post I’ll tell you more about what I’ve been up to lately with my own project.