Choosing Ideas

Sharks have a fascinating method of self selection.  When certain species reproduce, they carry a group of fertilized eggs in the womb.  When the eggs become embryos they fight each-other and the last embryo standing gets to make a go of it in the real world.  This harsh pre-life phase, called oophagy (egg-eating), has been effective at producing super-scary killers for about 400 million years now.  

If you want to start a remarkable business, one way to go about it is to have a group of ideas and test them in this same sort of competitive environment.  That way there’s a better chance your ideas will make it in the real world, and you’ll have more confidence in pursuing them.  A good way to get started is to think of a whole bunch of crazy concepts and to pass them through a qualifying process before you go out and quit your day job.

1. Risk / Reward.

When you launch a business you’re trading your time, your money, and forgone opportunities for the chance at success. Some ideas require so little time and money that you might as well give them a go (get it out there).  Others pursuits require you to quit your job, bet the farm, and borrow 50k from Aunt Thelma.  The bigger the risk, the more you’re going to want to test your concept.

2. Why are you starting a business anyway?

People start businesses for all sorts of reasons.  They want to make a contribution to society, make ridiculous amounts of money, or to have more control over their time.  Whatever your reason is, that’s your objective… so keep your eye on the prize.

3. Do you have the skills?

You might come up with some great ideas for a new circus act, but if you can’t juggle, you might be SOL.  You’d probably be better off choosing an idea that has equal potential, but lines up with those awesome bike riding skills you have.  Your idea should need the talents that you have to offer, but don’t sell yourself short.

4. Resources.

I don’t mean money.  I mean people, and people who know people.  Making use of your network is a great way to get any idea off the ground.  If you can tie your circus idea to that cousin of yours who part-times as a busker and that guy you met who’s an event planner… then maybe we’ve got something.

5. Money.

This doesn’t necessarily mean what you’ve got under the mattress, but rather what your capacity is to raise money.  Different ideas have different capacities to be financed. Sometimes not having money is an advantage… it forces you to think.

The purpose is to get you to think objectively about what it takes to make your ideas happen.  If you put 10 or 20 good ideas through your own personal shark-infested gauntlet… the odds are better that you’ll feel confident in what you choose to pursue, and it might survive out there in the real world.

A few notes:

  • Get your ideas down on paper no matter how crazy they seem at the time.  You can evaluate them later.
  • Develop your own filter. I’m sure I’ve left out something that’s important to you.
  • Don’t think of this as a one way street.  If your idea fails one of your tests then maybe it can be modified.  Go back to the drawing board and let your ideas evolve.

Bill MacEwen founded WorkSpace in 2005, and is now pursuing an MBA at Babson College.