This week, I had the opportunity to speak on naming / branding as a Mentor at Adeo Ressi‘s TheFunded Founder’s Institute on Naming & Branding. (I may post slides in an update, depending on permissions.) The presentation went very well.
One of my favorite things about Silicon Valley and about the Founder’s Institute in particular is getting the opportunity to meet and interact with so many founders and entrepreneurs, people taking big risks to bring something new to the world. It’s hard hard work, and the people willing to truly put in the time and focus to make the world a better place are worthy and interesting–whether their idea wins or loses in the marketplace.
After my presentation on Tuesday, I had the opportunity to catch up with a number of the founders participating in the Founder’s Institute. A lot of passionate energetic folks, working through the process of starting a company. As I reflected on my conversations, one theme we discussed was around the idea and how I think about them. Trip Adler, who spoke at the Founder’s Institute a few weeks ago, talked in his session about ideas, and different philosophies and strategies on this. Y-Combinator‘s Paul Graham asks teams to build something people want–a good idea, simple and hard to do. Trip suggested other approaches as well–e.g., build something that fixes a problem of yours, adapt a successful business idea in one sector to another, etc. These are all good and useful.
For me though, I think its important to be able to cross-check your idea for ‘bigness.’ Starting a company is a big risk. To justify the opportunity cost of taking such a big risk, in my mind, the idea also has to be big. Most seem to go through the work of sizing and scoping the bigness of the idea by doing market research, looking at industries, etc. That’s good to do.
I make one addition though, and that’s what I call loosely the “Forbes 400 test.” The Forbes 400 is a list of the wealthiest 400 people on earth, and what they’ve done to earn this money. Every year, I read this list, but not in the way you might think. I’m not reading it to learn about wether Larry Ellison or Paul Allen have a bigger yacht. I’m not really interested in the bling, although there’s a picture of Paul’s boat Octopus, rumored ot have a crew in the hundreds, including 15 ex-Navy SEALS. What I get from reading and studying the list is an intuitive sense of what an idea needs to be in order to be large. Think about it. Many of these folks created entrepreneurial businesses that have been massively successful, based on big ideas. When I pattern match thos ideas, I see ideas that are broad in scope and impact, while at the same time being simple to understand as a value proposition. (Think Wal-Mart–‘we sell for less.’) For me, spending 45 minutes, reading up on these folks and then looking back at an idea is quite grounding. It helps me assess whether my idea would ever have an opp
ortunity to be that broad in scope and a value proposition that simple.
I’m not saying you need to aspire to be on the Forbes 400 (I don’t begrudge you if you do!). This is purely an exercie to cross-check your idea at an intuitive level. I’d argue that your idea had better be big to justify doing it. Reading about the folks who’ve started some of the biggest entrepreneurial waves on earth is a good way to get your mind oriented towards whether your idea could ever stand on that stage.