Not a single day goes by without an email in my inbox that reads something along the lines of "Hillel, I have an idea for a startup that could be huge and I would like to tell you about it." I never have the heart to tell the sender that ideas alone are borderline worthless.
An idea not enough, or even close to enough, to achieve success. In fact, some of the most successful companies weren't based on a unique idea at all. What was Facebook's sole brilliant idea? Twitter's? Google's? Apple's? None of these companies had just an idea, but they did have the following five things.
You've researched until your fingers hurt.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but if you think for a second that just because you have an idea, even if it is a great idea, that you are on your way to success, you could not be more wrong.
First thing's first: Stop thinking you are so smart and start doing extensive research on who had this idea before you. Once you are done with that research, try to figure out who else is targeting the same audience as you. Then move on to who failed, who succeeded, and why.
I cannot stress this enough. Doing market research and competitive analysis is about the most important thing you are ever going to do in the life of your startup. For one reason, when you eventually pitch an investor and the first question that investor asks you is about your competition, your ability to spit out all the companies in your landscape will make a fantastic first impression.
You know that execution is more important.
This has become somewhat of a cliché by now, but there is reason things become clichés, mostly because they are true. Take Facebook for example. Do you know what made Facebook Facebook? It never stopped executing on its vision to connect the world.
Like or hate the platform, I think Facebook is about the most significant product since the invention of the internet and if there is one reason the company was able to achieve this level of success, it is because it never stops shipping. An idea without execution is worth nothing, whereas great execution, even without a killer idea, might be all you need.
Gaining traction isn't just the destination. It is part of the road.
I had a call this week with a CEO who pitched me on his new messaging app. Yes, that's right, because that's what we need now--another messaging app. Anyway, I let the CEO do his pitching, which by the way, lasted way too long, and then I asked him the obvious question, "So, how many users do you have?"
All of a sudden, the phone call got awfully quiet.
Here is the thing with products in 2020: You can have an amazing idea, you can even build a fantastic product, but without users who can validate your vision, what you have is noise. Why do I call it noise? Because that is what we all have in our feeds, app stores, and inboxes--noise. You have another product? It is just noise until people are actually using it.
You're prepared to iterate based on real data.
I know what you're thinking: "How do I get traction without an idea, great execution, and money in the bank?" The trick to that is iteration.
If you have three users, pay very close attention to the way those users interact with your product. What screen do they love? Which do they hate? Where do they get stuck? What feature can they not live without?
It is no secret that so many successful companies started in a totally different space but paid attention to the way users were using the app, and iterated accordingly. This includes Instagram and Slack to name two of so many other examples.
Build, ship, iterate, and repeat.
You know users are interested in the problem you are solving.
Once you have researched, executed, gained traction, and iterated, now it is time to measure the effectiveness of all your work. How much time are users actually spending in your app? Are they coming back? How often?
The opposite of noise is retention, loyalty, and actual data. If people are retained and coming back for more, you are doing something very right. If they are not, you are normal and you represent more noise, a nice-to-have, and not a must-have. Figure out how to turn yourself into a must-have and game over, you win.
In summary, an idea is cute, and it's a start, but don't waste your time talking to people like me about your idea if that's all you have. Instead, use the internet to research what's out there, then build, execute, iterate, and retain users. Now you are on the way to where you want to be.