Thursday, January 18, 2007

Which Idea Wins

I've asked this question on a number of entrepreneurial forums and I never get an answer.  Well duh, why don't I ask it on my own blog?

Ideas are a dime a dozen.  Some people produce more than others, some produce better ideas than others.  But they're all over the place.  Let's assume for a moment that there are people out there (I count myself among them) who can measure how bored or unhappy they are with life by how many "ideas" they juggle in their brains at any time.  I've got a full time job (one that I commute 3 hours daily to get to and from).  But when people hit me up with the "What are you passionate about?" question, do I tell them about my day job?  No, I tell them about one of my ideas.

Don't worry, I'm getting to the question.

Ideas come from all over the place.  Right now, in my head, I could tell you about a podcast, two ebook projects, a real-life book proposal, two or three game ideas, some software ideas for educational projects, and a couple of web2.0 types of things. Oh, and one actual physical product that would have to be made out of something other than bits.  In almost every case I could tell you my motivation, the market, how I would go about making and selling it, and so on.  These aren't just "Oh, there's an idea..." thoughts, they are mini business plans that I keep in my brain.

What I don't have is time.  Time is the crucial resource.  Especially if you're bootstrapping.  Oh, did I mention that I have three young kids?  My time each day is basically: two 25 minute trips on the train, and then maybe about an hour and a half in the 10pm-11:30pm range after kids and wife go to sleep.  Could I work later in the night? Eh, sometimes.  See earlier point about having 3 kids and a full time job.  Gotta sleep.

So, at this point I'm sure you've figured out the question:  which idea wins?  That is, when ideas are easy and time is hard, and you can only really pick one, which one do you pick?  There's at least three or four variables that go into that decision:

  • which idea are you most passionate about?  Surely some ideas are of the "Oh, hey, I think I could make some money like this" variety.  I'd probably put all eBay businesses in this category :). But then there ideas where you say "Wow, I think the world would be a better place if this idea became reality."
  • how much money will you make?  Naturally if you're unhappy with your dayjob and trying to bootstrap something, you can probably envision supporting yourself via your idea(s).  So the amount of money that you can make will factor in.  And that, sometimes, is mutually exclusive to the "how passionate am I" question.  I might love Shakespeare, I might want to write my own book someday about how to teach Shakespeare.  Something that would make my kids love it as much as I do.  But, will it make me rich?  Tough market out there.
  • what other resources do I need?  The digital age has empowered many people to do start businesses.  Anybody with a computer, basically, can start a business.  Or write an ebook, or create a podcast.  But what if the idea involves the real world? Physically making something, or getting it out into a non-web market?  Such products do still exist, ya know :).  Sometimes an idea requires that you step out into an area you know nothing about.  Typically an area where it'll start to cost you time and money (such as scheduling face to face meetings with strangers you want to do business with, paying to have prototypes designed, and so on).

Each idea will fall differently on those three scales.  You can only pick one.   If you pick more than one, than ultimately all you're doing is a disservice to both, since neither will get the kind of time that it should.  No fair hedging your bets, all it shows is that you don't have confidence in either idea.  But picking one idea is putting all your eggs in one basket.  No other ideas will advance when you focus all your energy on just one.

So, again I ask, and I'll shut up now...which idea wins?


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