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It's not the idea, stupid

The idea. It is a romantic narrative that permeates many industries, from startups to music to art, but is just that: a romantic narrative. Most often, the best singer or guitarist isn't the most successful. That's because you need more than talent. You need a mix of ability, luck, consistency, and determination to make it big.

It is the same in business. There aren’t that many businesses that started from a truly innovative or unique idea. Myspace and Friendster launched before Facebook. Facebook's success came because its distribution channel (university students) created a network effect that made its metrics much more compelling than competitors.

The moped existed for 100+ years (shout out to Solex, which I used for a summer commute) before the recent electric bike revolution. E-bikes are slightly better versions (cheaper, quieter, smaller), but I still don't understand why they took off in a way the moped didn't.

The existence of a similar idea isn’t a bad sign at all. It validates demand in the market and provides valuable lessons for your journey. In fact, many successful startups have simply used technology to improve the customer experience (ride sharing, food delivery, neobanks, etc) of existing products. Others have observed a trend that works in another market and created the same business for a separate function or vertical (systems of record, productivity tools, etc).

You need an idea to start a successful business, but the idea won’t determine the the success of the business. Entrepreneurial success is more Richard Branson than Salvador Dali.

I’ve spoken with a number of potential founders in the last few years and they are often unsure how to get started. To help, I’ve created a guide to help you get started with your idea. There are four steps:

  1. Idea Research and Validation

  2. Viable Business Model (VBM) Creation

  3. No Code (Low Code) Delivery

  4. The Company v1.0

Idea Research and Validation

This is the starting point. Ideally, you’ve identified a problem and created a thesis for how to solve the problem. Now it is time to find out what other solutions exist and develop your differentiation/positioning. Most people (looking at you MBAs) spend too much time here. A mix of thinking MECE is required and the fact this stage is fun and low/no risk.

You should now test your thesis with 5-10 potential customers. This should provide you with the qualitative feedback to create your initial positioning.

Viable Business Model (VBM) Creation

It is time to find out if you have a viable business or not. The VBM provides you with a roadmap to create your benefit statement, identify your target audience, and select your distribution channel(s). The goal is to test and iterate until you find the best path to your paying audience. You can read more about the VBM and how to use it here.

No Code (Low Code) Delivery

There are a plethora of low or no code resources that you can use to “fake it until you make it”. Once people want to work with you, you should jump right in. A common misconception is that customers are buying your product…they are not. They are buying the benefit that your product or service creates. They don’t care how you do it as long as you deliver the benefit, so for your initial clients you should duck tape it together.

The Company v1.0

The beauty of going through the entire delivery process with no/low code tools is that you’ll learn what is actually needed. It will inform what tech you need, when and where. It will help you identify the roles and responsibilities required. Finally, it will clarify the key parts of the process that you need to get right. These inputs then allow you to create your business plan for v1 of the company.


This process is meant to test your idea as quickly, realistically, and cheaply as possible. The goal is to have a burgeoning business that leaves you no choice but to focus 100% of your time on it.

I'll follow up with more details (similar to the VBM posts) on how to think about and execute in each stage of development.

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