People I meet outside of entrepreneurial circles often seem to view start-ups as simple business ventures that only require a good idea.  They think that after you have figured out that what your “genius idea” is, everything just falls into place and works out for the best.  They don’t realise how many years of work entrepreneurs put into their enterprise and that most start-up ideas change more than once before they become a fully fledged business.

Entrepreneurs have responded to this common misconception by saying that “ideas don’t matter,” and that the real focus and the heart of start-ups is “execution.”  However,  entrepreneurs say this in response to mistaken notions and, in fact, ideas do matter.  They just don’t matter in the way that your average Joe defines a start-up idea.

In order for a start-up idea to be a successful idea, it has to be extremely well defined and developed. According to Balaji Srinivasan, start-up entrepreneurs have to consider multi-year plans that try to take into account the different paths that the business might take as the world changes. He calls this multi-year, multi-layered plan with built in backup the idea maze  and he says:

A good founder is capable of anticipating which turns lead to treasure and which lead to certain death.  A bad founder is just running to the entrance of (say) the “movies, music, file sharing, P2P” maze or the “photo sharing” maze without any sense for the history of the industry, the players in the maze, the casualties of the past, and the technologies that are likely to move walls and change assumptions.

A good way to look at it is to imagine that you’re contemplating starting your own new company.  You would need to consider things like:

  1. How will your suppliers, distributors, and competitors respond to your business?
  2. How long will it take for the technology you use, or the market in which you operate to change?
  3. What mistakes did other failed companies in your industry make?
  4. How would successful companies in the industry solve their problems?
  5. How will the development of technology and other businesses affect your company?

Getting Help

When you begin working on your start-up idea, it’s literally impossible to create every layer and contingency plan, and backup contingency plan for your idea maze, however there are a few things you can do, and a few places that you can turn to if you need any help.

  1. The Past

    If you are having trouble with your idea maze, you can look back and research other companies that have tried to do the same thing, or something similar to what you want to do.  You will need to assess their plans, Idea Mazes, and actions to figure out what they did right and what mistakes they made.  One problem you may encounter is that most people who have great start-up ideas never shared their plans and so the information only exists in the minds of the people who tried and failed.  This is why “stealth mode ” is not always a good idea. The potential advantages of sharing information and learning about the Idea Maze usually surpass the risk of having your idea stolen.
  2. Analogies

    You can also use analogies to similar businesses to develop your own Idea Maze.  For example, if you decide to build a “tourism information” company, you can study the beginnings of TripAdvisor or LonelyPlanet.  If you decide to create a marketplace company, you can look at the beginnings of companies like Amazon and eBay.
  3. Theorise

    Over the past few decades, thousands of tech start-ups have risen and fallen, each of which left behind valuable historical data.  If you want to make a smart move, look through these records and develop your own theories that generalise the data that you collect.  You can find this information in academia, but more recently, the information has become more easily accessible through budding and experienced investor and entrepreneur blogs.
  4. Live It

    There is nothing quite as valuable as personal, direct experience.  Many of the greatest start-up founders created their Idea Mazes through experience by working in the industry in a related business.  The best way to capitalise on this method is to put yourself in interesting mazes then figure them out.

This metaphorical maze should encourage you to think about your own start-up idea as well as the competition you will undoubtedly face.  While the competition posed to you by other start-ups may be a distraction, most won’t go down the same path that you do.  The issues to be wary of are your mistakes and the years you may potentially waste by taking a wrong turn in the maze.