The Startup – that temporary organization in search of a business model that will allow an enterprise to duplicate and grow – draws a lot of attention. Have you ever felt left out by the Startup discussion, but unable to put your finger on exactly why that is? Recently, I spent time at an international conference for inventors and innovators. Wow! What a group to hang out with for a week. Smart imaginative people, young and old, successful serial entrepreneurs and naïve students with fledgling dreams all sharing thoughts on how to generate, nurture and propel ideas from their very conception through commercial success.
During my time with these exhilarating individuals, I had the opportunity to hear from Steve Blank, author of The Startup Owner’s Manual. Steve, a serial entrepreneur with successes in tech start-ups and failures that created real craters (his words not mine). Steve has used his combined experience and education to write articles and books and teach for top universities about entrepreneurship.
Conversation with Steve and others illuminated for me why this Startup discussion sometimes leaves me slightly uncomfortable. Too often, it seems that the conversation about a Startup is not about a Startup at all, it’s really about an idea. You see, the two are not one and the same; neither is a bad thing, but confusing the two generally leads to mistakes. One big difference between the two, a start up is impossible without an idea, but the reverse is not true.
An idea is just that, an idea, a seed, a brainstorm, a loosely formed thought. According to Mr. Blank, an idea is an opportunity to start a search: a search for customers, a search for pain in the market, a search for a unique way to eliminate the market’s pain, a search for your own unique and valuable capabilities to deliver that solution. The ultimate goal of the search: to identify a customer base and build a customer development system around their pain. Only after a thorough search and discovery around these points and many others should the conversation about a Startup, really start-up!
If this seems like a meaningless or trivial distinction, think again. Have you ever had an idea dismissed without much thought by someone you had hoped would be supportive? How do you combat such a “diss”? The answer to this question is key to traveling the path from idea to startup. How many steps are in this process and how long does the process take? It depends upon the complexity of the idea, among other things. Think about the idea as a newly hatched baby bird. This animal barely resembles the adult form it will become, it can’t fly, but it is certainly a bird. If it were pushed out of the nest immediately upon hatching, it would fall to its demise. The baby bird needs food and time to nourish and nurture its growth of flesh and feathers. The baby idea that comes into the mind of the inventor is identical. It needs nourishment, in the form of searching for customer’s, their pain and a solution to the pain, all of which take time, in order to fly and become a startup.