I’m glad you’ve decided to solve the world’s problems. I sincerely hope to see you succeed. Before you start, please spend five minutes Googling your solution with the questions below in mind. If you are still excited, let’s talk.”
That’s the advice I wish I’d had five years ago.
Entrepreneurs (myself included) have this incredible ability to ignore reality when it isn’t in line with our goals. We feel threatened by the idea that the answers to the questions we should be asking may prevent us from moving forward, so we don’t ask them. Or worse, we ask the questions but don’t listen to the answers. It’s self-deception in the worst way, and it’s an entrepreneur’s Achilles’ heel. It feels better to move forward blindly than to search out whatever hurdles may be in the way.
But closing your eyes doesn’t make monsters go away. The answers exist, whether you want to face them or not. There are thousands of examples of this, but let me share one of mine:
A startup by any other name?
My cofounder and I started our loyalty marketing business, CityGro, five years ago. CityGro’s original name was BlueCache, which we thought was clever for a business started by “true blue” Aggies (Utah State University) from Cache Valley, Utah.
It wasn’t more than a few weeks after we launched that a client paid for their “BlueCache” service with an American Express “BlueCash” credit card. I remember my gut telling me that this was going to cause problems, but I had a number of ways to excuse the severity of it in my mind.
“We’re an unrelated business,” I thought. “We spell it differently, and we can prove its originality.” Ignoring my intuition, I went ahead.
Long story short, a year later we received a cease and desist letter from AMEX and had to spend thousands of dollars rebranding. Had I done a five-minute Google search beforehand, I would have quickly found that naming my business BlueCache was a terrible idea.
5 questions you should ask about any idea
I now live by the rule of “Goo-diligence.” Whenever have a new idea or am asked for feedback on someone else’s, I won’t move forward without a quick search on Google. I hate to say it, but many of my “great ideas” have stopped before they ever started because of things I’ve found in less than five minutes. On the other hand, this research period has also helped me refine my ideas so they become even greater.
So as you start Googling (or using whatever search engine you prefer), here are five questions you might ask yourself. And, please, try to be honest about the answers:
1. Is there really a need for my solution? This question requires brutal honesty. It’s the easiest question on the list to justify. Start by Googling related terms and see if people are talking about the subject. Find out if there is a market of people that would be willing to pay for your solution.
2. Does my solution already exist? Assuming there is a market, how are people currently solving the problem? I’ve learned to love analyzing competition, because it has sparked some of our greatest ideas.
3. Is my solution disruptive? If the market exists and there are other solutions out there (which is typically the case if you have a large market), you may still have a business if your idea is disruptive. There are great books written about disruption, but to summarize, you can be disruptive by introducing a similar product at a much lower cost OR by offering a much better solution that saves time, effort, etc. (Try reading The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen if you’re looking for more info on this.)
4. Is the name I’ve chosen available? As mentioned above, this one got me personally. Make sure you search several different versions of the spelling, check URLs, and consider any pre-designated connotations that may be associated with the name your choosing.
5. What other solutions would I use? This is a close relative to #2 but can’t be emphasized enough. Force yourself to see what else is out there and don’t jump into the ring without knowing who you are up against.
If you do your due diligence with these questions in mind, and can pass favorably on each one, chances are you have a great idea.
If not, before you lose a lot of money, you may want to stop or take a new twist on your idea.
Jon Parrish is the founder and CEO of CityGro, a loyalty marketing company that allows businesses of all sizes to connect with their customers. He lives in Salt Lake City with his family and enjoys snowmobiling, RockStar Energy drinks, and cheering for the Jazz. Connect on Twitter @CityGro.