John Petersen

Burn Your Ideas to the Ground

One of the worst mistakes that an entrepreneur can make also happens to be the one that is the easiest to make. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on your first company or your seventh startup. Even if you are aware of this pitfall, you might fall victim to its trap. So what is the mightiest of startup perils?

When you become too attached to your idea, you only see what you want to see.

Traveling down the entrepreneur’s path with your blinders on is a very dangerous place to be. It’s easy to get focused on the positives and ignore the rest. Don’t punt on the difficult questions hoping that everything will just magically work itself out. Being enthusiastic about your idea is important, but it shouldn’t affect the way others see your product.

New customers and complete strangers will never be as supportive as your friends and family. If you lock yourself up in a nurturing environment, it’s very easy to get caught up in your own hype machine. Eventually though, reality is going to hit you hard. One way to combat this downfall is to get feedback.

Brutally honest feedback

It is not enough to get feedback though ­— you need brutally honest feedback early and often. It’s important to get a steady dose of reality. In order to do this, take off your rose-colored glasses and remove any biases from the feedback you’re getting.

How can you tell if you’re getting brutally honest feedback? It’s simple. How many times have you pitched your idea and someone said they didn’t like it or it wouldn’t work? If the answer is never, then you are definitely not getting the comments you need to hear. Chris Dixon writes one of my favorite posts on this topic.

The best way we’ve found to get honest feedback is to provide it ourselves. You must be the one to burn your idea to the ground because no one else is going to do it for you.

How we burn down our own ideas

Our company, Firehawk Creative, approaches every new project or idea the same. We’re not worried about raising capital, exit strategies, or vanity metrics. Our primary objective is simple: Completely destroy the idea from every angle possible.

We look at an idea from so many different perspectives:

  • What problem is this solving and how painful is the problem?
  • Are people actively looking for a solution already?
  • How can we market this product and attract users?
  • How many users do we need for this to be a home run?
  • What assumptions are we making and how critical are those assumptions to success?
  • How, when and how much money is this thing going to make?
  • Who are the current competitors?
  • What’s the barrier to entry and how defensible is it?

These are some generic questions, but any one of them is enough to derail your project. Remember, that is the point. We are actually trying to bury your idea so that it never sees the light of day again.

You may think this is a very negative approach or just downright mean. I’m okay with that. I’ve seen too many people waste too much time and money on terrible ideas that never stood a chance from Day One.

We’re on a mission to help people avoid this outright waste of talent and capital.

You could make the argument that without taking chances on bad ideas, you’ll never get to the good ones. I would completely disagree. I believe our process actually leads to the generation of better ideas with higher frequency.

Good isn’t good enough

Throw bad ideas out and throw good ideas out. There are a million good ideas out there, but you must be patient. The best entrepreneurs we’ve worked with have come to us with an idea, realized it wasn’t ready, and then spent several months coming up with something exponentially better. Sometimes it is a derivative of the original idea or it’s totally different, but it always ends up being a better idea.

A recent example involves an entrepreneur who was interested in building a product to help yoga studios maximize their rent and profits. He really did his homework — attended yoga conferences, met with studio owners, teachers, and students. It turns out that his idea was good, but he threw it out because he realized there was a greater opportunity. He’s working on applying what he learned from yoga studios to all commercial real estate. His plans are super ambitious and it’s one of the startups that I’m excited about right now.

Patience, patience, patience

After you keep throwing out ideas, it’s easy to get anxious and wonder if you’ll ever come up with anything worthy. Then one day it’ll just happen.

You’ve asked and answered all of the really difficult questions. You’ve brainstormed why and how it would fail instead of daydreaming about how successful this idea could be. And for every reason why it would fail, you had a stellar answer to combat that reason. You brought out the flamethrower and gave your best effort to destroy your idea, and you failed. This is the idea that was worthy of your precious time and resources.

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