FROM CLEVELAND TO THE VALLEY :
A Tackk blog series of observations of a Cleveland Startup CEO living in Silicon Valley
I THINK YOUR IDEA IS _____
A QUICK (AND TOPICAL) NOTE ON TIME JUSTIFICATION
I just tweeted a small snippet of this as a preview, mostly to get a small validation point to see if this topic is interesting to people in or near my network. This is something I've been doing more of lately, and I find it useful. I think it's actually prevented me from writing a post or two on topics that nobody really cared to read about.
The thinking is wherever you share a thought on a topic (FB, Twitter, Quora, Medium, Reddit) if you can get 10+ combined pieces of engagement or reengagement on it, regardless of how many followers you have, it's probably going to be interesting enough to write about. That would be a summation of shares, likes, retweets, favorites, comments (even negative), thumb-ups...whatever it is just get a little data validation to justify the time spent on writing out the post.
If there is one thing I've learned in being at a tech-startup for the past 2+ years, it is that your time truly is the most important controllable resource at your disposal. And learning how to carry out quick exercises to get some small data validation about time spent is an invaluable skill, one that I will always be working to hone. Almost everything you do for your business will be centered around testing a hypothesis, even the small or mundane tasks. I find that successful people have developed hundreds of little ways to test if the juice will be worth the squeeze in almost anything they do. And they understand that those 5-10 minute tests that most dismiss as a hassle are actually the most important time spent in your day.
This can stretch far beyond just deciding to write a blog post or not. For instance, want to see if taking a first-time meeting is worth your time? Use tools like LinkedIn or AngelCo to see who else you are mutually connected to, and send a two minute email to that person to get their impression. Those two minutes can save you 1-2 hours (or more) of a complete time waste. Want to attend a conference but don't know if you'll get out of it what they are advertising? Email the organizer and ask for the partial attendee list and ask someone if it was worth the time/$. If the conference organizers won't share that, just ask for the hashtag they used last year. You'll be shocked at what you'll be able to find by searching for #CodeJam2014 on Twitter...enough to get you an idea of what your going to get in Code Jam 2015. And now you can make a more informed decision with 5 minutes of legwork.
The data is out there, there's never been more of it. Train yourself to start thinking how you can get it quickly, not if you can get it. Over time, this will become a reflex and you'll be a much better informed decision maker.
BACK TO THE IDEA YOU'RE SHARING WITH EVERYONE
Being a startup guy, or just a product enthusiast in general, I get pitched a lot of ideas for a product, service or business from those looking for feedback or validation. This is especially true in early conversations when I just meet someone and they find out what I do. This happened back home in Cleveland, but has increased ten-fold since coming out the Valley.
I don't mind it at all, it's a way to connect with me on common ground on a topic that people know I'm interested in, and there is nothing wrong with that as that's just good communication practice. But this one is tricky, because it's one of the only areas where people ask a stranger or someone they just met to give feedback on something they feel strongly about AND they are extremely vulnerable to because it's their idea. This is not a benign debate about if the Cavs will beat the Warriors if they meet in the NBA Finals (Cavs in 6, btw), because as passionate as we are about our home teams we aren't the GMs and we didn't formulate the rosters. There is safety in that dialog, sports teams failing don't really reflect on you. It should set up as harmless interaction, as I am just one irrelevant view point on a planet with 7 billion viewpoints, but we know it's never that innocuous.
But here is the bigger problem with the entire dynamic...the answer that I want to give but haven't yet figured out a delicate way to deliver is the good ole political trick of abstention, because I truly don't have enough to info to formulate an opinion. Or I'd like to just leave the blank in the title above as pervasively 'blank'. The reality is whatever I (or anyone else) think about the idea is nearly irrelevant to the outcome. Ideas are just a multiplier of execution. My response would depend on the next 20 questions I'd ask about execution. How that person planned to execute would determine if I thought it was a good, or more importantly, viable idea. But most people who are circulating an idea socially haven't given nearly enough thought or exploration on execution, so I don't want to uncomfortably put them on the spot.
This chart does a great job quantifying, in dollars, this concept and I think it's very well stated even though the actual numbers are made up to illustrate the point:
Asking for feedback on your idea is the equivalent of telling me you want to cook a complex french cuisine and handing me one of the raw vegetables to taste before you even begin. It could turn into the most marvelous dish I've ever tasted or it might be this. That's a wide of a spectrum of possibilities and I don't know how well you cook.
The only possible value you can get out of circulating your idea at the "I've thought nothing about execution" stage is if you are actually circulating an awful idea. As the chart shows, it won't matter how brilliantly you execute you will waste your time and money on it. To be honest, I don't think I've ever heard someone present a truly awful idea and even if they did most people I know would never have the heart to tell them that. So when you think about that reality, you have no upside in sharing an idea at the pre-execution phase.
But what's most interesting, and validating, is when you come across a serially successful entrepreneur and notice they usually handle this interaction the complete opposite way. You'd think they'd be quick to share whatever they are noodling on lately, as their track records gives them an instant credibility in any conversation and it can easily become a platform for boasting. But in my experience those people take a very different approach...they guard their ideas until they have a prototype to show. They don't mention an app idea until they can pull out their phone and show you a beta build. Or they mention an idea for a service and immediately follow it up with an already-in-motion logistical setup so you can quickly see not just what they offer but how it will get distributed as well. And I don't think they do this to protect ideas from getting stolen, I think they do this because successful idea men and women know an idea only has merit once they've put time and cycles into early execution. It is then, I find, that I get really interested in both hearing more and being involved with this idea person in one way or another. I think most people react the same way.
When comparing Cleveland to the Valley and this effect, both have their share of idea sharers and dreamers. And regionally speaking, neither place is immune to the practice of people willing to share unbaked ideas as a social interaction practice. But the culture of the valley leads to infinitely more executers. There are so many different ways for people to test ideas. Incubators, hackathons, meet-ups, or simply strategic pairings (A builder is introduced to an idea person through a mutual acquaintance all the time here). And what surprised me initially is the fact that in many cases, the connecting party doesn't ask for anything in return. Sure, it's implied that they should get the first look at investing or participating if that connection yields something promising, but overall there is an understanding that an idea person without execution is useless and generally altruists want to help prevent that if they can.
There are two main outcomes of this, and they are pretty obvious. On the plus side, many of the successful apps and SAAS services come from this region and I believe that underlying "build a prototype and start thinking execution now" mentality is a big driver of that here. The downside...there are lots of zombie or completely failed apps and services. But is that really even a downside? That's almost a badge of honor out here, the idea being if you don't have at least one start-up failure have you really taken a stab at anything and learned from it? Obviously everyone would like to get a hit in their first at bat but that's always the outlier scenario and that notion should not drive outcome expectation.
If I could package up and bring one thing back to the Cleveland (or entire midwest area) it would be this shift in mentality:
Who really cares if you fail. Stop talking about your idea, stop dreaming about it on your morning commute, and stop sharing it over a beer or coffee, trying to get the nth validation point. Just start executing on it already, and then lets talk about it.