Should I keep my startup idea secret? TLDR: No

A few months ago I received the following question on the Startup Maze Amsterdam meetup group:

Hi Andi, I recently joined the group and I’m new to meetup, so pardon me if this has been discussed already. In the next workshop we are to discuss our ideas and products and what need/ problem they are meant to address – great topic – but how does one make sure that someone else doesn’t steal or copy the idea?

I answered the question and moved on. I thought that it was a one-time question. However, in the following months this issue kept coming back over and over again. And this Friday, as I was talking with a friend, I realised that I have answered this question so many times that now I have a script ready for it. And it sounds like this…

I think you should share it with as many people as possible and here’s why:

Ideas are simple, implementation is hard

Scott Belsky Bēhance Quote

Don’t believe me? Well, if it’s really that simple, why didn’t you do it already? Believe it or not a ton of people have a ton of ideas on a daily basis and still we don’t have a ton of new companies opening every day.  Toying with your idea in your mind, achieving virtual success, selling your imaginary startup for millions and then spending all the money on a nice car, a nice house, vacation on sunny islands and becoming a Angel Investor… well, I’m sorry to break it to you… we all do that. What we don’t do is actually go through all that…because if F’in hard.

If it’s that simple to steal, then what’s your unfair advantage

unfair-competition-SUMO1

Really, if you think that all it takes is for me to hear that idea in order to steal it than you are in serious trouble anyway. When building an product you want to have a unfair advantage, a way to protect that business. Some entrepreneurs rely on patents, some on their knowledge, some on their unique set of skills, some on their resilience….

So, if it’s so easy to steal, how will you protect it once you launch it? Or are you going to be even to scare to share your product with the media and customers? Think about it.

You might build an existent product

I actually have a joke ready for this one. It’s not mine, I heard it from Chris. It goes like:

“I love when people come to me and tell me:

Dude I have an amazing idea. I want to build a product that will be amazing. Not sure how come nobody else did it. Listen, I want to create something that will store your music online so you don’t need to have it on your phone or computer. Imagine you could stream all your music on the go, from the cloud on any device. And then I go: uuuuhhhmmm like Spotify? and he goes: Spotify? What’s that?”

birds owls head tilt_www.wall321.com_93

I know the example is a bit exaggerated … I hope. And while I believe/hope that nobody will want to pitch a startup idea like Spotify as a completely new concept,  unless they lived under a rock until now, it might be that for niche markets you haven’t heard of all the solutions yet and indeed your big concept might be already a massive success.

You’ll get instant, valuable feedback

Oh, and don’t share it with your mom, dad or close family. Share it with people you don’t know that well. They won’t feel the need to protect your feelings. You will see immediately if they get it or not, which is gonna be great feedback.

If they don’t get it then either:

  • your product sucks
  • you don’t know how to explain it
  • you didn’t pick the right audience

All of the above great learning points and you should do something about it.

If they do get it, if they do like your idea it’s aweosme because:

  • the counter reasons of the above points
  • plus, you can ask them if they want to be your beta testers. Ask them if it’s ok to contact them for feedback once you have a tangible solution.

It’s not the first thing you should focus on anyway

One of the most common issues with startups and entrepreneurs is that they start with an idea/solution. And on one hand, sure it’s normal to do that. That’s the fun part.

But, there’s a huge down side. If you start with an idea in mind, if you think that you already have every single detail of your solution figured out… well, you are in big trouble.  Every successful entrepreneur will tell you that the final product is not the product you have in your mind right now. It will evolve a lot on the way.

So there you have it. If you think that sharing your idea will let others steal it… well, maybe the stealing part is not your biggest problem anyway.

Cheers,

Andi

 

 

Inspiring quotes for entrepreneurs: Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison Photo Quote 2

Thomas Edison had a lot of wise words for us. Among my favourite Thomas Edison Quotes are the following:

  • Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
  •  Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
  • Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
  • To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
  • I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.
  • Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.
  • The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.

And my favourite…

There is no substitute for hard work.

What’s you favourite from the ones above?

Customer Understanding as part of the Problem-Solution Fit

appstore

For this interview, I had the pleasure to talk to Douwe Wester and Edouard Dopper, co-founders at leanup.nl and experts in lean startup methodology, agile methodology, scrum management and innovation models for large companies.

Douwe Wester             Edouard Dopper

I met both Douwe and Edouard a few months ago at an event which they organized together with Rockstart Amsterdam and Adam Berk, on product innovation, problem solving, and the customer development process. I remember I enjoyed their energy so I asked them if they would like to share some of their know -how with the Startup Maze community. To my great pleasure they both agreed, so… I got my recording gear and headed up to Douwe’s apartment, which is an amazing place situated smack bang in the middle of Amsterdam, in a building full of character and with a view to one of the many picturesque canals.

We spent almost an hour and a half talking about customer understanding, customer experience, and startup development strategy. I selected the most interesting parts of our chat and shared them in the podcast below. This week we will explore the first part of the problem-solution fit, the customer understanding In the next episode we will dive into early adopter acquisition. Basically how do you find your first customers.

Douwe and Edouard say that one of the most common mistakes in the startup world is to start with building a product without truly understanding the problem to be solved and the riskiest assumptions that are the foundation of your business model. So what is the a better way? Start with the customer understanding

Customer Understanding

  • Step 1: understand the problem you are trying to solve
  • Step 2: understand who has that problem, define the archetype(s) of the customer
  • Step 3: see if you can find more people that display similar archetype behavior
  • Step 4: do market sizing as a reality check
  • Step 5: create and iterate Influence maps

Your turn. What do you think about this approach? Let me know below.

2nd StartupMaze Workshop – What was it about?

EddieThis is a guest post by Eddie Gannon. He is young entrepreneur with Irish roots, currently based in Amsterdam. Eddie is passionate about tech and innovation. He is currently working as an IT consultant, and in his spare time he likes to explore how technology is changing business.

 

Here’s a quick rundown of the things we spoke about at the last Startupmaze event on April 26th, including the topics discussed, the projects we’re working on, the challenges we set for each other and the techniques we shared.

The theme of the meetup was to test the problem you intend to solve for your users. This follows on from the previous event about focussing in on the problem aspect of your idea instead of jumping straight to solution design. The idea for the group is that we can follow each other’s progress through the full startup cycle from ideation to testing to release.

StartupMazeWorkshop2

The projects we’re working on:

Andi – Expanding the product offering of the online security company he works for into offline security products.

Mario – Creating an app that allows voters in his home country of Spain to explore which political parties most closely match their views.

Prabath – A startup that caters to the full range of administration needs of SaaS based companies.

Peter – Creating event management software that allows non-professionals to organise all aspects of an event.

Monica – A portable coffee mug that allows the coffee lovers a hassle-free way to reduce the waste they produce.

Eddie – An app that allows consumers to have more trust in the sustainability of their food.

We first discussed the pitfalls of solution-oriented thinking. If you get carried away too early with what you think is a great idea you can lose touch with the need to validate and explore the importance of the actual problem your idea is supposed to solve. This is the opposite of how to run “lean”. Part of the reason for this lies in our cognition; we are biased in favour of choices we have made in the past. A striking example of this solution oriented thinking is that of William Temple Hornaday. So Andi challenged us again to phrase our ideas using the template “I’m solving <<this problem>> for <<this group of users>> “.

We then spoke about what the core problem addressed by each of our ideas was, and how we could test if we are looking at reals need.

Andi’s plans to advance this further by driving online traffic to a landing page and testing the response and subscription rate.

Mario is currently conducting customer interviews to dig into the preferences of his target market.

Prabath’s idea is more developed as it is a related product to other successful solutions offered by his startup and he knows this space well, so he is currently testing the needs of his consumer base in this regard.

Peter has had similar success; he is further along the release cycle and actually has a beta version up and running already for his event management software.

Monica is in discussion with designers for her idea of a coffee cup that can be reused and then collapsed into a handier size for people on the go.

I am testing the interest from my target market with customer interviews and email subscription uptake to see if people are interested in an app that would give them more transparency about the provenance and production of the meat they buy.

There were some useful tools mentioned that can help founders at this stage of product innovation. Landing page builders like kickofflabs.com and instapage.com. In terms of driving traffic to those pages, Facebook ads were mentioned as a hassle-free and effective channel. Resources to help guide your thinking around customer development include the entrepreneur’s guide to customer development, the Lean Stack, and of course Eric Ries’ Lean Startup. We’ve added some resources to our group dropbox and there’ll be more added in future.

The next event will be soon so join us on meetup.com. We’re thinking about how to improve the format and structure so if you have any ideas let us know!

How to convince premium subscribers not to cancel their subscription?

Here is a great example of how Spotify deals with it.

I love how they try to change your mind until the very last moment. They don’t make it difficult for you to cancel your account but they play with your emotions.

This is the message you see when your are about to take the last step to unsubscribe from Spotify. Check out the song 😀

Spotify - increase retention tips

How cool. I think this a is great example of how you can reduce churn/ increase retention among your users. Make it personal, play with their emotions, make it funny.

Seth Godin: People don’t want email, they want ME-mail

A simple phrase that holds so much gravity.

“People don’t want email; people want ME-mail.”- Seth Godin

Most people are interested in their own needs, wants and fears. They don’t really care about what you want. Seems obvious right? Yet, some entrepreneurs forget this essential idea while building their startups.

Why? Because, at the end of the day, we’re also people, and we all have our own needs. That makes it easy to fall in love with a solution WE came up with and forget about the customer’s needs.

Even though it seems obvious it can be quite counter intuitive and this is why I think it’s worth mention over and over again.

Now take a look at your products. Do you build ME-mails or emails for your customers?

Oh, and in case you haven’t watched it already I really recommend Seth’s TED Talk below:

Churn vs Retention: “meh” vs “I love it”

My theory is that one will lead to a product that your customers don’t hate while the other to a product your customers love. Now, before I go any further I will tell you again this is just my own idea and unfortunately I don’t have hard numbers to back it up, BUT I think I’m on to something. Here’s why…

Most people would say that churn and retention are two faces of the same coin, so why the different outcomes? Well, for me the answer lies in understanding a basic idea promoted by NLP (neuro-linguistic programming): the words we use in our communication have an inherent and unconscious impact on the outcome of our conversation.

For example if I tell you: “Don’t think of a black cat“.

What’s the first picture that comes to mind? A black cat. That is because the command “think of a black cat” is in that short sentence. Of course, before you have a chance to not think of a black cat, your unconscious brain has already put a picture of a black cat up and stuck a DON’T label on it saying “this is the thing to not think about.”

This same principle helps you achieve certain goals, from buying milk to building better products. NLP specialists say that you’ll have more chances to remember the milk if you phrase it: “remember to buy milk“ instead of “don’t forget to buy milk“.

To a certain extent, I do believe that, and I do believe that words and phrases have an inherent effect attached. We might not notice because it usually happens unconsciously. Thus, IMHO it’s better to focus on what you want to achieve instead of what you want to stop/move away.

Long detour, but this is why I think churn and retention will have different outcomes.

Churn vs Retention

Inherently, stopping churn implies that you have to stop people from quitting using your product/service. In other words stop people hating your product so much that they wan to quit. Once you’ve done that you are fine.

On the other hand, increasing retention implies that you want people to use your product for as long as possible, thus you want to maximize the value they get. In other words you make people love your products, which by the way is a much better goal to have ;).

So… any thoughts on my theory? Please let me know in the comment section.

Photo by Linda Tanner, used under CC