5 Ways To Guarantee Your Idea Won’t Be The Next Instagram

The original title for this post was going to be “Instagram Is Great And Your Ideas Are Crap,” but I thought that a bit too harsh.

I have an issue with most ideas.  There seem to be too many people with too many ideas these days.  They flit around like gnats; buzzing in my ears and constantly annoying me.

Perhaps I am oversensitive to ideas.  In my previous business I had a partner who fancied himself an “idea man” and a “big picture” type of guy.  He was always coming up with new ideas, convinced that each one of them was going to make him a billionaire.

We parted ways on December 24th, 1999.  I went my way and he went on his merry idea way.  Last I heard, he was forced to flee the country in order to avoid creditors, loan sharks, and fraud investigators.

He never could have created something like Instagram because he believed in the five following concepts, and if you practice these yourself, you’ll never create the next Instagram either.

Over market and under develop your idea –  My ex-partner was big on “show.” Appearances were most important to him and he constantly wanted to put money towards marketing at the expense of product development.  His philosophy was that if you could get in front of 1 million people, you could surely attract 1% or 10,000 new customers.

The problem is, if you put a piece of crap in front of 1 million people, not only will you not get any customers, but those who are exposed to your lame product will spread the news about your crappy company to thousands of others.

How much does Instagram, Costoco, or Facebook budget for marketing and how much do they put towards creating a terrific product/service that provides a top-notch user experience?

Make your idea too complex – If my ex-partner had worked for Instagram he no doubt would have suggested that the company develop a mobile mini-printer to connect to your phone in order to print out pictures.

He would have figured that since you were sharing photos with your friends, why not add the ability to share recipes as well.  Then partnering with Groupon would have been suggested so that coupons could have been imbedded into each photo that was sent.

People say to me all the time, “I can’t believe Facebook is paying 1 billion dollars for a company that lets you share mobile photos.”  But they are missing the point.  It is not about the dollar amount Instagram is being valued at, it’s the fact that they took a very simple and focused model and did it better than anybody else out there did.

Your idea doesn’t have to be complex to add value, it just has to be good.

Create your idea in a vacuum – Every Monday morning my ex-partner would bound into the office with a whole batch of new ideas; and there was a specific reason for this.  Over the weekend he would be surrounded by a sycophantic group of buddies who, as he was picking up their bar tabs and paying for their meals, would reinforce every idea he would come up with as “brilliant.”

The fact that none of these people worked at our company, understood our business model or customer base, nor had any practical life or work experience didn’t seem to matter to him.  His ideas would continue to germinate in this isolationist environment, with no reasoned or intelligent critique or counter balance, until he had married himself to them so completely he couldn’t back away from them.

One Monday he told me about his idea of manufacturing pool tables, but in different shapes; like stars or in the outline of the United States.  I tried to ask how this would work.  Since you wouldn’t really be able to use them to play pool, why not just create them as tables, you know, without the pockets?

He replied, “but they are pool tables.  It would be cool to make them in these shapes.”

Once again I tried to explain that yes, maybe the tables in those shapes would be cool, but by making them in those shapes, you couldn’t play pool on them.  And hence they weren’t really pool tables.

He told me, “You just don’t get it.”

Let customer demand drive every idea - This one may seem a little counter intuitive. How can your ideas work if they are not what your customers want? Obviously you have to create a product or service that there is a demand for, but you also have to know where to draw the line with that demand.

My ex-partner’s ideas wanted to be everything to everybody.  He wanted to create services and products that would cost us tremendously in terms of time, money, and man hours, but were asked for by only a few customers.

I have no doubt that there are some people out there that would like an Ipad to have a built-in bottle opener.  Others might want it to be able to float.  And others might want it to only be priced at $199.00.

Your ideas have to be “core” ideas that make sense to the largest amount of customers, and each “outlier” idea that you try to incorporate will take away from your bottom line success.

Think that the idea is most important – The alternative title to this post could have been “Ideas Without Execution Are Crap.”

I had twenty trade ideas on Wednesday, and I couldn’t execute on any of them, and thus they were worthless.  And that is that is what Instagram would be, worthless, if the founders could not execute.

Sure, in an abstract sense the process of coming up with ideas builds the mental framework to develop newer and better ideas in the future, but no matter how many great ideas you come up with, if you can’t execute on them, they will fail.

You need to brainstorm to find ideas, but all the brainstorming in the world without a strategy and an effective way to implement it will lead to nothing.

The best way to give your ideas a fighting chance is to know how to execute them, or failing that, know how to surround yourself with those that can.

So perhaps it is not ideas that I am upset with, after all, ideas are what this country was founded and built upon.  I suppose it is just the people that present ideas as if they are the end all, and be all that I have an issue with.  Those that think the mere fact that they have ideas entitles them to some special consideration.

My “idea” for them is to avoid these five pitfalls and maybe they will create the next Instagram.


Bonus Idea

What bclund is, is the intersection of markets, trading, and life (with some punk rock, pop culture, and off-beat humor mixed in).  Why not subscribe for free Via E-mail or Via RSS and follow me on StockTwits and Twitter.

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9 Responses

  1. Been following for a bit, first time comment. 1. Great blog 2. Bottle opener.. someone just made an iPhone case with a bottle opener. Last I heard the company was worth millions. Good post, seems your ex partner believed his own bullshit, so to speak

  2. Facebook actually has 51 marketing job openings.
    But yeah, I understand your point: Facebook also has over 100 engineering job openings.
    I have a friend who is an ideas guy. I actually saw two of his ideas brought to reality by two different companies. Unfortunately, he lacked the execution to bring them to reality first. Or perhaps he lacked the will to bring his ideas to reality. Execution takes a lot of blood sweat and tears. Ideas are really the easy part. Bringing that vision into reality is the tough sledding.

  3. Pingback: Friday links: reluctantly public | Abnormal Returns

  4. I worked for a self proclaimed Idea man before. He was proud to tell you that in ten years he had two ideas that made money. I can’t say anything but those were some bloody brilliant ideas.
    I asked him about his two ideas and he said that he learned to avoid his own bad ideas and only invest in his good ones. I guess in order to be a good idea man you have to be humble and acknowledge that most of your ideas are going to stink and then avoid those ones until something good pops up.

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