‘Small’ ideas are not the problem

Editor’s Note: This is a cross-post (possibly some sort of reblogging) from Momoko Price’s blog originally posted on August 13, 2012. Momoko Price  is a web writer, editor and communications consultant based in Toronto. She runs a communications consultancy called Copy/Cat and frequently blogs about startup culture and web communications at http://copy-cat.co/.

In a recent blog post called ‘Toronto is Broken’Upverter co-founder Zak Homuth wrote that Toronto’s startup community suffers from an overabundance of ‘small ideas,’ implying that ‘thinking small’ is somehow intrinsically less valuable than ‘thinking big.’

I’m not a web startup founder, but I am an entrepreneur and many of my clients are web startups. And as a writer, sometimes I can’t help but focus on how the wrong word ends up detracting from the soundness of someone’s argument. This is one of those times.

So let’s clear something up right now: There is a world of difference between a ‘small’ idea and a shitty idea. Let’s please stop equating one with the other; it’s not helping to solve the problem (ie: a cultural aversion to creative & original ventures).

CC-BY-20 Some rights reserved by pasukaru76
Attribution Some rights reserved by pasukaru76

Zak isn’t the first person to complain about small uninspired ideas, and derivative product pitches certainly aren’t unique to Toronto. But trying to combat an epidemic of ‘small ideas’ by being ‘frighteningly ambitious’ instead is, well, not exactly great advice. Here’s why:

1. ‘Small ideas’ can be built and launched more quickly.

Creating a successful product involves much more than just the idea, or even the product itself. Testing, marketing, financing, selling, scaling, management — these factors will often end up playing a far more critical role in determining your startup’s success over the long run.

So rather than worry about whether or not your idea is ‘big’ or ‘game-changing’ enough, why not bite off something you know you can chew now, whatever it is, and start getting some real-market experience as soon as possible? That way, you’ll actually know what to do (and what not to do) when that crazy, once-in-a-lifetime idea strikes you.

2. Traction, not ambition, defines a ‘world-changing’ idea.

I often help entrepreneurs structure and refine their pitch decks, and it never ceases to amaze me how frequently they include 5 or more slides about their idea or product, and none about whether the idea is actually taking hold with anyone.

Meanwhile, most experienced investors don’t really care what your solution is, as much as they care about whether lots of people want it.

A product or service doesn’t have to be complicated or even tech-based (as Derek Sivers points out in his popular ‘Ideas vs. Execution’ clip). The important thing is to gauge its market traction.

After all, an idea or product can only change the world if people actually use it. In business, if your solution takes off, then it was a great, world-changing idea. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t. Simple as that.

Editor’s Note: This is a cross-post (possibly some sort of reblogging) from Momoko Price’s blog originally posted on August 13, 2012. Momoko Price  is a web writer, editor and communications consultant based in Toronto. She runs a communications consultancy called Copy/Cat and frequently blogs about startup culture and web communications at http://copy-cat.co/.

  • http://twitter.com/MomokoPrice Momoko Price

    Hey David, thanks for posting this! My original lengthy comment was not in vain after all (woot!) 

    Just a quick correction (caused by unavoidable copy/paste limitations): 

    The word small in the fourth paragraph is struck-through. (To see what I mean: Should be http://cl.ly/image/1z3v1k2U263l       vs.      http://cl.ly/image/2T422t1z2L1C
    Cheers!Momo

  • http://davidcrow.ca/ davidcrow

    Sorry about that. Apparently my regex cleanse of HTML tags was too aggressive. 

  • http://engag.io/ William Mougayar

    Peter Drucker once said “Ideas are somewhat like babies – they are born small, immature, and shapeless.” 

    That’s a good post and what you are referring to is the case where there is a Product, but not necessarily a big company potential behind it. Some small ideas become big, and some others don’t. Traction and evolution are what can turn a small idea into a bigger one, and a viable company behind all of that.

  • http://abdallahalhakim.tumblr.com/ Abdallah Al-Hakim

    By definition you build a product or a service that is addressing a ‘pain’ in the market. It might start small the important part is that it is scalable

  • http://www.getsnappay.com/ Jim Rudnick

    The counsel about “biting off what you KNOW you can chew” is spot-on,eh! It’s that kind of thinking (I believe) that yes, spawns traction…which spawns new customers and revenues too….all together the “right” thing to start with, eh! :-)

  • http://www.beemak.com/ guest

    It’s incredibly true what you say about small ideas. 

  • http://davidcrow.ca/ davidcrow

    I like the “right idea” definition by @giftrocket:disqus  in http://onstartups.com/tabid/3339/bid/64782/How-To-Pick-The-Right-Idea-For-Your-Startup.aspx

    1. Ideas should do one:
    * Make something difficult easy
    * Make something expensive cheap
    * Make something that entertains

    2. Pick something with a big market pain

    3. Commerce is different than social software

    4. Pick something where you can empathize with your users

  • http://philgo20.com/ philgo20


    Traction, not ambition, defines a ‘world-changing’ idea.”

    This makes no sense. Traction is required to turn a potentially disruptive idea into a ‘world changing’ one. But does traction by itself defines it? How many non ‘world changing’ idea have generate ridiculous traction just because the guys behind it knew how to generate traffic and clicks? That does not mean anything.