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‘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/.

Looking for a direct line to Silicon Valley

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Mark Silva (LinkedIn, @marksilva), SVP Emerging Platforms at Anthem Worldwide. He was in attendance at GrowConf 2011. 

CC-BY-20 Some rights reserved by JD Hancock
Attribution Some rights reserved by JD Hancock

There’s a different business DNA here in Silicon Valley and there’s no other start-up ecosystem like it anywhere in the world.  We are the descendants of miners, pioneers, and manifest destiny. We’re comfortable crafting real value from the clay of chaos. In the 49er days you weren’t a failure if your mine went dry, only if you quit and that attitude persists here today. I always tell startups, if they’re serious, they need to come to Silicon Valley.  It’s tough enough to start a business. Why not start with an unfair advantage and remove some of those obstacles you face with an ecosystem that can help solve your biggest and smallest issues?

GrowConf Aug 22-24, 2012 in VancouverThat being said, you’re not doomed if you decide to start a business somewhere else.  Events like the GROW Conference in Vancouver have made the Silicon Valley ecosystem mobile and if only for a few days, you can have the Valley brought to you.  Between the speakers, mentors, investors, companies, and accelerators, GROW Week is like a high speed rail to Silicon Valley with exclusive access to the right players.

As we all know, there’s a serious echo chamber in Silicon Valley, and the chance to get out of our caves and be in new places is healthy and promotes good ideas.  I find that when I attend a good conference or event, I end up having more in depth conversations over the course of a few days with people I care about than I do in any other situation.

Some of the highlights for me from GROW last year were getting to know Vy Le, CEO of Rudy’s Barbershop, spending time with top Silicon Valley VCs like Chris Redlitz, Jeff Clavier and Rob Hayes, and networking with fellow mentors like Matt Galligan and Lane Becker from Get Satisfaction.  How awesome is that!?

GROW is the closest thing to a “Valley” experience outside of the Valley, and Vancouver is one of the most beautiful backdrops to inspire collaboration, discussion and innovation. I’ve never met a Canadian I didn’t like, and I’ll put that challenge to the test when I return to GROW in August!

Join Mark Silva, Julia Hartz, Sean Ellis, Dave McClure, David Cancel and others at GROW August 22-24th in Vancouver, BC

Register for GROW with a $100 discount using the promotional code “SN” at http://growconf.eventbrite.com/

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Mark Silva (LinkedIn, @marksilva), SVP Emerging Platforms at Anthem Worldwide. He was in attendance at GrowConf 2011. 

Spilling the secret sauce

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Cory Mcculloch (Linkedin, @CoryMacculloch). Cory studied law at UofT, works at Brooks Law and was a summer student at Cognition LLP. Follow Cory on Twitter @CoryMacculloch.

The following is not legal advice and may not be full depiction of the law. Do not rely on anything stated below without first speaking to your lawyer. By publishing the information below, there is no creation of a lawyer-client relationship.

At every entrepreneurial event that I go to, I, without fail meet at least one person who guards his or her business idea like it is the coordinates of a hidden treasure and I am a pirate looming for an opportunity to pillage.

While I always respect one’s decision not to disclose details about their business idea, one cannot forget about the benefits to be gained from people who, like myself, enjoy connecting entrepreneurs with others. Granted, sometimes the decision to remain confidential is wise, but I suspect people are often misguided.

When to “shut-up”

If you are working on a process or machine that you wish to patent (assuming you know what can be patented and what cannot be patented) and you believe that it is going to be more than year or so down the road before you are able patent it, then it may not be a wise decision to disclose details about your process or machine in its early stages. This is because of the “novelty requirement” embedded in the definition of “invention” in the Canadian Patent Act. As interpreted, an otherwise valid patentable subject matter becomes unpatentable when one *discloses how their invention works, and *discloses enough details to enable a skilled reader to make or construct that very invention. This is again assuming that the subject matter for which your “invention” is patentable Most general business ideas that people devise are not patentable inventions, and even if one’s idea is patentable, telling someone your target market and how your business idea will work is generally not enough to violate the “novelty requirement” of a patent as described above.

If you have signed an employment agreement, consultation agreement, shareholder’s agreement, or any other agreement that has a provision labeled as “confidential information”, then for the sake of legal safety do not disclose any particulars about the related party’s business model or any secrets until you have understood the substance of your promises. Often these agreements are intended to protect the company’s “trade secrets”. With that being said, generally agreements provide that something that is already public is no longer is a secret.

If you haven’t signed any documents with anybody but you have devised ingredients or steps for the making of a product or code, or you have received those ingredients from someone else, then it may also not be a good idea to disclose what those ingredients are. Even if you decide not to patent your invention, the common law affords a limited amount of protection for what is classified as a “trade secret”. A trade secret loses all of its protection when it is no longer is a secret.

When it may be a good idea to reveal

If none of the above situations apply to you and you have the ability to discuss general details about your idea (i.e. what kind of hot sauce you are planning to make and your target market) then it may be a good idea to disclose general details without disclosing the essential ingredients of your hot sauce.

Contrary to popular belief not everyone you talk to is in the business of ripping off ideas. A very costly mistake is creating a business without early validation. The only way to get any validation is by hearing the plight and praise of potential customers and this may require some opening up. Funding opportunities, staffing possibilities, and connection building are also some essential building blocks that people may miss out on.

So although there are times when it may be wise to not “spill the secret sauce”, there are other times when giving a little taste test can lead to valued feedback and responses.