The sixth Entrepreneur First cohort have just started with us?—?100 technologists from a range of backgrounds, some fresh out of their PhDs, some with more than 15 years experience in industry.
The beginning of EF is all about ideation.
We select individuals based on their talent, not on their ideas. Some of them come to use with a clear idea of what they want to work on, most don’t.
The process of coming up with a ‘good’ idea can seem daunting. There are so many potential areas you can work on. Many people have long lists of potential ideas, but struggle to know how to make a choice.
At EF, we use three simple questions to help the cohort evaluate their potential ideas.
1. Can you do it?
We push the cohort to work on ambitious ideas that have the potential to be globally important businesses.
But, ideation needs to be based in reality. There is no point in choosing to work on control systems for self-driving cars if you have an arts degree and no relevant experience. Likewise, if you want to build the next Deliveroo, you need to have deep experience in operations. It’s unlikely that a fresh grad can build a 5,000 person delivery network.
The best ideas come from your edge?—?the most advanced skills or knowledge that you have. Unless you have an edge in a particular domain, it’s unlikely that you can execute the idea to the level required.
2. Are you the best person to do it?
Defensibility and competitive advantage matter. For an early stage startup, the defensibility comes from the team. Is this founding team significantly more skilled or more knowledgable than the next potential founding team?
For each idea you are reviewing, ask yourself whether you could be in the top 10 potential founders in the world. In most industries there will be a handful of big companies. You need to know why you might be one of the companies that out-competes its peers.
For example, the founders of Meraki, a startup that produces distributed wired and wireless networks, used the knowledge from their MIT PhDs to build their initial product. The company was acquired by their biggest competitor Cisco, who realised that Meraki was able to build a product that challenged their own.
3. Do you want to do it?
Peculiarly, this is the question that is least often asked.
A startup is a decade-long endeavour. It is demanding, emotionally and physically, and will require your total dedication. If you want to build a significantly sized company, these aren’t optional extras.
So, if you don’t feel a connection to the idea, if the idea doesn’t excite you and doesn’t fire up your imagination, it’s probably the wrong thing to be working on. Your time is precious and the opportunity cost of this idea is high?—?it’s the other idea you could potentially start?—?so make sure you’re investing time into something you care about.
Ideas come from iteration
These three questions can help you understand which idea you should pursue. However, the final test is beginning to work on an idea. Input from your customers and increased understanding of the problem and market will force you to iterate and change your idea.
Ideas are just the starting point, so don’t sweat it too hard. The most important thing is to get started.