The Startup Funnel of Ideas

You never fail until you stop trying.

— Albert Einstein

Yes, we are going to use that word. Startup. And since this was not in any of our original plans, let us see how we got to where we are now.

Thousands of Ideas

We are always looking at the world and thinking it can be improved in some way. Every mechanical device has some deficiency that can be remedied and every parking lot could be better designed. Even the line at the local coffee shop could be optimized.

But we are also a skeptic. We love shooting down our own ideas as technically unworkable or financially impractical. And we are also happy to shoot down the ideas of others when they come to us asking for a sanity check. It is a dual nature that most people have.

For a very long time, our skeptical side dominated our inventive side. But in the last few years the tide slowly began to turn. First of all, we began to be more aware of incentives. Given that we had already achieved a financial base, even a moderately successful idea might produce enough income to make a real difference in our future. Second, we longed for a creative outlet. Lastly, we began to realize that some of these ideas were not so impractical after all.

Hundreds of Ideas

Several years ago marked a major shift in our thinking. Another year before that point, we had an idea that we thought was both novel and financially viable. We did a little investigating for a few weeks now and could not find any trace of this idea elsewhere. Despite the fact that it would have been relatively easy to pursue, we decided that the lack of a market indicated a lack of interest. We abandoned the idea and forgot about it.

A year later, we stumbled onto this idea again. A new company had built a multimillion dollar business on this exact idea. Sure, we felt frustrated, but we did not feel cheated. We chose not to pursue it and even if we had, there is no guarantee we would have achieved the same level of success. Nonetheless, we did have one takeaway from the episode: our ideas might be more viable than we originally thought. We began to write the good ideas down on paper and it turns out that several of these ideas have subsequently been successfully implemented by others.

20 Ideas

At the beginning of the last year, we decided to choose the best ideas we had and potentially begin working on a few of them. We are afraid the selection was not all that deliberate and we ended up with about 20 ideas to choose from. We then decided that we needed a more formal evaluation process.

5 Ideas

We used the following eight questions to filter our ideas. The first seven questions were basic business criteria. The last question related to our personal need to find more meaning in our work. One morning in early summer, we sat in the Tiergarten and ranked our ideas.

  1. Need. Do we wish we had the product or service ourselves? Would we use it? Would we pay for it?
  2. Simplicity. Could we explain this idea to a “person on the street” in two or three minutes?
  3. Monetization. Is there an easy way to monetize this? Are there multiple possibilities for monetization?
  4. Annuitization. Does the idea have some sort of natural recurring customer interaction? Are there follow-up possibilities for the product or service?
  5. Competition. Is the market dominated by an existing player? Or are there a few weak players? Or is this a new market?
  6. Flexibility. Are there ways the product or service can be easily changed beyond the original idea?
  7. Funding. Could a formal business plan be developed for the idea? Would an investor realistically be potentially interested after seeing the plan? Would a larger company conceivably buy it?
  8. Creativity. Would we consider it a creative endeavor to be working on this idea? Would we be happier working on it rather than our current jobs?

When we were done. We had three ideas and we spent the rest of the summer working on all three of them. We also decided to re-rank these ideas at the end of the summer, after we had more experience with them.

We were not sure what to expect. We assumed some of the ideas would eventually fizzle out, but actually none of them did. We still consider all of the ideas to be viable, although one turned out to be less enjoyable than the others. We also wondered whether it would be difficult and subjective to determine which ideas were better than the others at the end of the summer. But here we were in for a surprise.

One Idea

One idea was clearly better than all the others. In fact, it was so much better in every single category that we were a little bewildered at first. Could it really be that easy? What about the other viable ideas?

The idea of choosing one thing has always been difficult for us. We have trouble answering questions about our favorite movie or food or city. The idea of ranking one item above all others (and actually believing that) is a pretty foreign concept for us. So it has taken us a few weeks to mentally process everything, but in the end, we are still 100% convinced that this one idea stands out and that is where we need to go.

From Idea to Startup

Many bloggers have a lot of moneymaking ideas that they often refer to as “side hustles.” These types of ideas may be the safest because they are generally easy to start, require little capital and can be effectively managed by a single person. Examples of side hustles would include websites, e-books, tutoring and consulting. While our ideas tend to be a little less “virtual” than most bloggers, they generally still fit into the same risk/reward profile.

But this one idea is a different kind of idea than our others. From the very beginning, it actually had “startup” written all over it. Every single day we wished we had this product: not to sell, but to use ourselves! Thus, we have a certain passion for this idea. Second, given the nature of the idea, it really feels more like a venture or a company than an attempt for part-time income. Third, the business plan practically wrote itself. This does not mean it will be successful, but it does show that the idea is framed as a business in our mind and not merely as a cool idea.

In our moments of doubt, we still wonder if this is just a small idea, elegant but insignificant. Perhaps it would be something interesting to work on for a while and we might eke out a few bucks from it. But in our moments of hubris, we wonder if it could be heavy disruptive in the markets.

So it is going to be exciting to see what comes from all of this! In many ways, we feel like we are being dragged into this process, kicking and screaming. We do not feel ready for it. Yet we know that after all the thinking and prototyping we have done, we cannot now decide to wimp out. We would feel enormous regret in five years if we failed to even give it a shot.

Epilogue

All of this will require a substantial commitment of time, focus, emotions and money. Yes, it means EternalYield will need to go back into hibernation mode.

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