So I’ve got this idea...

We’ve all experienced that spark of inspiration. The adrenaline flows, your thoughts tumble through your brain at 1000 miles an hour. It is far too easy to get caught up in that excitement.

As someone who has tried multiple times to take those ideas and make them a reality. I’ve learned that those great ideas - often aren’t. I’ve learned many costly, painful lessons that those great ideas - often aren’t. Along the way, I’ve stumbled across some useful questions to help filter the good ideas from the bad.

1. Is your solution 10x better?

This first question is the hardest barrier to pass, as it is a high bar to hit. Truly great products or services fundamentally change a small part of your life. The following companies provide some examples of that 10x difference:

Whilst your new solution might solve a problem, often you’ll find the biggest competitor to your solution is simply doing nothing. Doing something new requires energy, and unless what you are offering is 10x better people just won’t make the effort.

When you look at your solution there are 4 different dimensions that your solution can be 10x better:

You can take any one of the examples above and break it down along these dimensions to see how much better they were than the status-quo. A good rule of thumb for when you’ve got it right is that the idea sounds “too good to be true”.

That is why these 10x differences take off as it is not a slight improvement. Instead it is usually a totally new business model that enables that 10x difference. This is why finding these ideas is so difficult in the first place.

2. Is this problem painful enough?

Assuming your idea is 10x better and sounds “too good to be true”. The next question to ask is whether this problem is actually painful enough. There is fundamentally more leverage in the problem space, than the solution space. In other words, solving the right problem is more important than solving any problem. The companies from before are some examples of painful enough problems:

As you can see these aren’t necessarily huge problems on their own, nobody’s life is ruined by the hassle of trading stocks. But the key is finding a problem that is painful enough, which you can measure through three variables: the depth, the size and the frequency of the problem.

Again you can take any one of the products or services from above and run it through this framework to evaluate their problem. A rule of thumb for when you’ve found a good problem is that it is a commonly accepted “joke” within your target audience.

This is why finding the right problem is difficult as it becomes accepted as just how the world works. Something to remember is that it is just as difficult to solve a big problem as it is to solve a small problem - you’ll spend just as many hours, have just as many sleepless nights. So you might as well try and do something that matters.

3. Is this a feature or a real business?

So at this point, you have a solution that “sounds too good to be true”, and it solves a problem that is so well known to the right people they joke about it. But just because it passes these barriers doesn’t mean you have a real business. It still needs to have a business model that generates revenue and it needs to be self-sustaining (at least eventually). If we take the companies from before:

As you can see each one of those products and services had a business that was at least equally as complex. There are many aspects to creating a business model with good fundamentals, but the following 4 questions are a good place to start:

This is the final big barrier to most solutions, as without a business model to support your idea it’s just a feature. And whilst it is unlikely, it is something that an existing competitor could easily copy if you prove it works. A good rule of thumb is that you should be as excited by the business model as the surface level idea.

If you’ve passed these three initial questions, you’ve got something worth investigating. The best book I have come across that I would recommend as a first step is Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet. It has a list of clear, simple, repeatable steps that will take you from here on out.

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