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Uber Cofounder: 3 Ways to Tell If Your Idea Is Worth Pursuing

Share your ideas early and often, and embrace the excitement of pre-launch stages.
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The typical entrepreneur has more ideas than s/he knows what to do with. So how do you determine which ideas are startup-worthy, and which ones deserve to be set aside for a rainy year?

Garrett Camp, the cofounder of Uber and StumbleUpon, recently discussed his methods on 99u.com in a terrific interview with Sean Blanda. Here are three tips he shared: 

1. Always be capturing....and seeking feedback. In addition to writing down all of his ideas, Camp solicits the opinions of friends, coworkers, and investors. Sometimes he'll wait a while before asking for their opinions. He tells Blanda: 

In the case of Uber, I had the idea for about a year. I had registered Ubercab.com early on. I was working on the prototype, and it was all very casual. And then my cofounder Travis Kalanick saw it. He got the vision and became my most active collaborator on the product.

You want people who are really passionate about the idea. I would rather have someone who is super-passionate about the #3 idea on my list than me taking my #1 idea and trying to get people onboard.

What's fascinating about this answer is the balance between Camp's introversion and extroversion. Like a musician learning an instrument, there is a time period of solitary practice, followed by a period of asking others how it sounds. When others respond passionately to how it sounds, Camp knows he has a good idea. 

2. Find the excitement in early stages. Today, countless consumers have an Uber app on their phone. Imagine the thrill of being on the team that first designed and built that system. This is where Camp seems to be at his most excited: 

When I think of Uber, it was probably a year to a year-and-a-half before the product got to where it worked, and then two years before [cofounder Travis Kalanick] started rocking it. It takes a little time to get a system up and running, and everyone forgets the first couple of years because you are toiling in obscurity. But those two years are very important because that's when you come up with a bold idea, you see all the issues, you design the whole system, and then it starts to resonate.

The key takeaway here is a reminder that even grand-slam ideas like Uber do not develop overnight.

This is why finding and embracing the excitement of the early days is important. Anyone can get excited about a company after it's successful. But if your startup team is willing to toil in obscurity for more than one year, it's another sign that your idea is a potential winner. 

3. When it comes to gauging passionate responses, don't forget your own. A few months ago, after Camp announced he'd raised $50 million from investors (including Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, and Tim Ferriss) to fund his latest venture Expa, I asked him about the process of going from on-paper idea to customer-ready product. After all, this very process is crucial to the overall mission of Expa, which calls itself "a startup studio that works with founders to develop and launch new products."

Camp's advice was to build initially for yourself. "You're going to have that passion to build it, and you'll get excited about that," he told me. "Because you, personally, will want it to exist. You'll put a lot of care into it. That's what I did with Uber. I basically created it because I couldn't get a cab. And now a lot of people use it."

In retrospect, what stands out about this response is Camp's suggestion that a founder's passion is essential.

When you combine it with his statements to 99u--all of which point to finding passionate collaborators--it's plain to see that Camp uses passion (both his own and others') as a gauge of an idea's viability. 

Of course, when you're initially building a product for yourself, there will always be outsiders who doubt there's a market for it. Camp believes these outsiders can dismiss good ideas before they genuinely think about them. "There are always people who don't 'get it,' but a lot of times I think the reason someone doesn't get it is because they only thought about it for five minutes," he tells Blanda.

"But if they sat down with you for a day or two they'd realize it was a good idea. A lot of times naysayers are just people that have not taken the time yet."




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