Five Ways To Kill A Great Startup Idea

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There is one thing that almost all businesses have in common: they were born from a simple idea. Whether something innovative and never before attempted, or simply a new take on an old process– without this initial spark, few businesses would exist.


But what value does this initial spark of an idea hold? That all depends on what happens next. In its raw form, an idea is like a seed– it has the potential to grow into something incredible but will lie dormant until it is nurtured and given everything it needs to thrive. During this nurturing stage, ideas are incredibly delicate and without the right care and attention they can easily wither and die.

That is not to say the initial idea itself is worthless– without the seed, you cannot have the flower. But once armed with a preliminary idea, entrepreneurs must be mindful to avoid what Steve Jobs referred to as “the disease of thinking that an idea is 90% of the work.”

In saying this, Jobs was by no means belittling the notion of coming up with great ideas, but as his head designer and closest collaborator Jony Ive once said of him: “He (Jobs), better than anyone, understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.”

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So how do entrepreneurs make sure their great business idea is not “squished” in this early stage? Well, it has to be said, it’s not easy. But you’ll certainly improve your chances of success by avoiding these five ways to kill a great idea.

1. Bringing in the committee too early Let me first say, I am not suggesting you don’t need a team to build a business. Of course you do. Teamwork is the absolute lifeblood of any successful company, and no one has ever built something truly great all on their own. However, this need for the right team of people around you comes at the development stage, not at inception.

As we’ve already established, ideas at this stage are incredibly fragile– and so too is your faith in them. Make the mistake of sharing your idea too early with someone who does not share your vision and you could lose all belief in a potentially fantastic concept, based on just a handful of opinions.

So this really is about timing. And it’s critical.

At this early stage, an influx of other opinions can overwhelm your initial thought, muddle and confuse it, and suddenly you reach early development and it’s no longer your original vision. So think carefully about when to share your idea and with whom you will share it. You need your band of trusted advisors and colleagues, but when to bring them in is a make-or-break decision.

2. Getting over-excited It’s only natural to get excited when you hit upon a great business idea. There’s nothing wrong with that – and in fact, a good helping of enthusiasm is definitely needed when trying to get an idea out of your head and into the real world. Get too excited, however, and your idea could end up dead in the water.

The problem is when we’re excited we tend to make decisions we would not normally make. Our judgment can become impaired and before you know it, all perspective is lost. Suddenly our new idea that may be “pretty good” at best is the be-all-end-all of everything and must be pursued above all else and at any cost. And to the detriment of your other business commitments– the stuff that keeps the lights on.

So it’s important that excitement from the initial idea stage doesn’t cause impulsiveness in the development process– that is, overestimating chances of success and underestimating risk. Essentially, while a healthy dose of excitement is no bad thing, it is not enough to carry an idea through to execution when a calmer, more levelheaded approach is required.

3. Overthinking and second-guessing When you hit the eureka moment with a new business idea, very little occupies your thoughts in the days, weeks or even months afterwards. To begin with, your mind will be racing with all the ways your amazing concept is going to make a splash in the business world.

After those first few days of excitement, however, the doubts start to creep in– can I really make it happen? Is there a market for it? Is it even any good? The longer you leave it between having the idea and taking the first steps to put it into action, the louder and more frequent these questions become. Over time, this self-doubt can be overwhelming, knock your confidence and cause you to abandon the idea entirely.

And even if you survive the self-doubt for long enough to start putting your idea into practice, this constant overthinking takes a heavy toll on your creativity– as a study by the Stanford University Institute of Design recently highlighted. They measured creativity by monitoring the brain scans of a group of subjects as they drew a series of pictures. They discovered that sometimes it pays not to think too much: The less the participants thought about what they were drawing, the more creative their drawings were. Or to put it in the words of Manish Saggar, a psychiatrist who worked on the study: “The more you think about it, the more you mess it up.”

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4. Moving on too quickly Many entrepreneurs pride themselves on being “ideas guys” and while that’s all well and good, we already know an idea alone will not get you very far. If they are to stand any chance of being great, all good ideas must be given at least a little time to percolate before being replaced by the next brainwave.

In many cases, entrepreneurs are guilty of this by having a better (read newer) idea a couple of days later and scrapping the first one entirely. Others may move onto to another idea themselves and hand over the original to their team before it’s fully formed. Either way, these are sure-fire ways to put the nail in the coffin of a great idea.

To stand a chance of success, a good concept needs focus, and that’s why no matter how successful their “ideas factory” is, no successful entrepreneur throws out ideas faster than they have the chance to truly explore them.

5. Losing sight of the ‘why?’ In those first phases of an idea, the only question that needs answering is: why? Why is your idea warranted? Why should people buy into it and why will it be a success? Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs jump straight into thinking how? How can it be done? How will I get people behind it? How will I prove it works?

While those how’s are all valid questions, they belong much further down the line in the development and strategy phases. If you start trying to figure out the how’s too soon, you end up in the position of questioning how you are going to achieve your vision before you have even fully fleshed out what exactly it is and why it is of value to the business world.

Entrepreneur and leadership expert Simon Sinek explores this point in his book Start with Why and his 2009 Ted Talk. When it comes to great business and political leaders or technological geniuses, Sinek believes there is “something else at play.” He found a pattern, something they all have in common in how they think and act. It breaks down like this: every person (or company) knows what they do; they certainly know how they do it, but do they know why they do it? The great ones can answer that final question definitively. Get this straight in your mind, and you’re off to a great start.

Nurturing a great idea

So those are our top five ways to kill a great idea– a fast guide on what to avoid. And to return to the great Steve Jobs once more, it can’t be stated enough that “there is a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.” A great idea may be an amazing jumping off point, but it’s only the foundation on which the end product is built. And it is the building that takes the time, money, resources– the blood, sweat and tears.

We often hear that a great idea is worth nothing without execution. I would go one further: a great idea is worth nothing if it is not given time to develop. That’s before we even get to the execution stage. As we have said, it’s understanding just how fragile those early ideas really are– so don’t be too harsh on them, don’t be too quick to throw them out for feedback and don’t get frustrated with them if they don’t take flight at the speed you had hoped. Most importantly, don’t succumb to the belief that the idea is everything in itself.

It’s simply the beginning of all the hard work.

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