Choosing the right idea is critical

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I’ve been home from AppCademy for a week now. All week I’ve been thinking about what I learned there and how to make the best use out of it. My next few posts will try to describe the most important things that I learned.

One of the biggest things I learned was how to analyze my idea – and any future ideas I have – in an objective manner. My career goal is to become really good at starting really successful businesses, so this skill is really important to me.

When I sat down to write this post I thought about different ways of communicating what I learned in an easy way. So, here it goes. I hope it has the impact that I intend it to have.

So imagine yourself back in medieval times with castles and stuff… (wavy fade in thingy)

Money on top of the castle

Money on top of the castle

So the king’s sworn enemy has stolen money from the people of the county and put it in a large glass jar on top of his castle. The king has assigned you the task of breaking the glass jar and capturing as much money as you can before they open the gates and unleash the hounds on you.

You arrive at the castle and asses the situation. Your idea is to quickly set up a see-saw type device and launch a rock up to break the jar. Using this method you can quickly sneak out of the woods, set it up, and maybe get a few tries at it before you need to high tail it out of there. (wavy fade out thing)

Ok, so this is a completely unrealistic scenario. But you can draw a lot of parallels to technology start ups. For one, you have a limited amount of time to try your idea before it loses its luster and the public forgets about you. It has to be pretty spot on from the get go.

Comparing the scenario to tech startups

Comparing the scenario to tech startups

So in this comparison you can think of the rock as being your idea, the board you’ll use the launch the rock as your assets, the hinge as the leverage you will get out of your assets, and you as the human resources you can use to accomplish the task. Lets look at each. I’ll look at the idea itself last.

Assets

So what do I mean by assets. Well in the fake scenario above the strength and size of the board are critical to your success. If the board is too short or if the board snaps under strain you will fail. The rock will go no where and you won’t even have a chance of accomplishing your objective.

In business your assets  are all of the physical (and digital) things you can use to launch your product. Your network of contacts. Your online presence. And let’s not forget the money that you invest. Lots of money can get you the perfect board. But you need to know that the cost is worth it.

Leverage

Leverage is directly related to your ability to use your assets. If you have that perfect board, but your hinge is just a small log you won’t be able to use the board to its potential.

This is directly relatable to business. And we see it all the time. People blow a bunch of money on marketing that doesn’t work or on the wrong target market. The way you leverage your assets is to be smart! Proper research about exactly what your money will return, what your contacts can and will do for you, and who your real target market is will help you leverage your assets properly. To really leverage your assets you need to know how to get the most out of everything you do.

Human Resources

Human resources are probably the most underestimated part of the whole thing – at least to the entrepreneur. Why? Because they think they ARE the human resources. They are, but its pretty unrealistic for someone to think they can be an expert at technology, business, marketing, and everything else you need to run a successful business. In the scenario above think about how much more effective your mission would be if you brought one of the king’s engineers with you. He could help you quickly analyze how far and how high you need to go with this rock and he’d probably be able to tell you exactly where to place your equipment for the best chance at success.

In business surrounding yourself with people that are smarter than you is just as critical. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. And by weaknesses, I don’t mean where you are weak. Rather – where you could and should be stronger.

Idea

Ok, so let’s get back to the idea. Imagine if you showed up to the castle with a rock already in hand. You don’t have any idea how high the thing is, how far away you’ll be, what board are nearby or what you can use as a hinge. But you’ve found the perfect rock!

The BIG idea

The BIG idea

In business we often hear people talk about their ideas and how passionate they are about them. And why not? Without an idea you have nothing. Right? Well that may not be true.

How many times have I heard someone with the next big social media service? Wow – people can connect online to other people they know! Like Facebook! Well, that is all well and good. And you may be able to be a way better Facebook than Facebook can. But its like showing up to the castle with a boulder. The work it is going to take to get the thing off the ground is enormous. Look at the huge failure of Google+. A big company like Google and even they can’t compete with Facebook. But yet lots of little startups think they can do it.

Someday someone will. Maybe they know a giant with a giant board!

On the other end of the spectrum are people who just want to build a quick app and expect to make a bunch of money at it. Lots of people do it. Why can’t they?

A stones throw

A stones throw

 

Well actually a lot of people don’t do it. The small stone is like the fart apps of the world. Easy to pick up and throw. But they don’t have the impact to break the jar. Sure maybe if you throw it 100 times you might chip the jar and get a few coins. But the chances are better that the stone will bounce off the jar, hit you in the head, and you’ll forever be known as the far app dude.

The right idea

So here is the thing. The right idea is different for everyone. And the right idea is usually not the first one. Everyone has to assess their own assets, how much they can leverage them, and whether they have the right human resources. Then, knowing all of that information, choose the right rock.

So imagine you are hiding in the woods looking at the castle with your engineer and a guy that can help with the heavy lifting. You’ve got your board and something that looks like a good lever. You find an area out in the woods to set up a few tests. You go looking for the perfect rock based on the size, shape, and weight you think you need. You try out a few of them to see how far you can launch them. You test their strength by smashing some branches. You test how many launches you can do in ten minutes – the amount of time you expect to have before the hounds get released on you.

Conclusions

  1. Choose your ideas based on your own personal assets and leverage. If you have bigger ideas spend time building up your assets and leverage before pursuing the idea.
  2. Test your ideas so to minimize risk. Start with small little tests and build up to a test that is as close to market conditions as you can replicate.
  3. If at first you don’t succeed… you are normal. Plan to make at least three significant attempts to try your idea before retreating.

The last thing I’d like to say is that this sounds like a lot more work that just throwing something out there and hoping for the best. It is only if you are lucky. If you’re  lucky go to the casino, it’s faster.

 

Please feel free to comment!

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Time to get down to business

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I’m glad to be home, but I’m really missing Helsinki. Maybe its not Helsinki specifically. Maybe its just being in a new place and experiencing new things, meeting new people, eating new food. If going to Helsinki proved anything, it is that I could really get use to traveling more.

So I’m back to work on Timmo’s Challenge. This morning I got the Coventry and Helsinki versions (final) uploaded to the Windows Phone store for final approval. Coventry it suppose to go live next Saturday!

Coventry Start Screen

Coventry Start Screen

I’ve updated the app quite a bit in the past month adding some improvements to the user experience. Like, for example, when you are registering a player it can sometimes take a few seconds to return the call to the web service. So I’ve adding a “working” animation to let the user know it is doing something. And I’ve changes the keyboard to shows numbers by default is the answer is a number. Things like that to make the user experience a but more enjoyable.

Level Screen

Level Screen

I’ve also gone through the clues for each level of each of the episodes to make sure they are as challenging as I can make them without making them too hard. That’s is a difficult balance and I’m realizing that this is where this app with fail or succeed. Everything else could be great. If the clues are boring than the app won’t go anywhere.

I really think the New York, Boston, and Helsinki episodes are in good shape. The clues there are really challenging and – I think – fun.

I guess we’ll see starting a week from today!

 

One word? Go!

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This morning I woke up to find my first homework assignment for AppCadamey. The four questions revolved around my branding and are those sneaky type questions that seem easy when you first read them, but then 20 minutes later you realize you just don’t have a clue.

Question 1 – Describe your app in one word.

One word? I have a hard time describing it with one paragraph, let alone one word.

Race? – No. Speed is one component, but you can take your time.

Puzzle? – No. Although it is mentally challenging sometimes, it isn’t jigsaw-like.

Challenging? – No. Well, yes but it doesn’t get to the essence of it.

Go! – Yes! What do you think of when you hear someone say “Go!”? It’s either “Where are we going?” or you think of starting a foot race when you were a kid. Ether would be totally appropriate when thinking about Timmo’s Challenge.

If you want to get a good idea of the feeling of “Go!” watch the first episode of any season of The Amazing Race.

Question 2 – Who are your competitors? (Name 5)

This one really reminds me of why I built this app in the first place.

[Shaky dissolve effect indicating we are going back in time]

When my kids were 9 or 10 we were hanging out the house on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon. The kids asked if they could take a lunch up to the high school. “Sure!” I thought. When I was their age I was out and about in the neighborhood. They needed to get out and do something. And we only five driveways from the high school. At their age I was riding my bike miles from home. Although my mom didn’t know. (She does now)

Well they weren’t gone a half hour and a police cruiser pulled into the driveway with the kids in the back, crying and upset. “What did they do officer?” I said thinking they had tried something I would have at their age like climb on the school roof or walk through the hallways after finding an open door.

“They were walking down the street by themselves.” he said puzzled that I wasn’t more alarmed that my kids had escaped the house.

Long story short, a neighbor called the cops because they were concerned. This shocked me. Had we really gotten to the point where kids couldn’t explore their neighborhood? I started thinking about it and realized I hadn’t seen kids playing outside, having neighborhood ball games, hide and seek, etc. They must all be sitting in the house. Or at properly organized sporting events.

Yikes! It scared me that kid’s might miss out on the important skill of exploring their world. Navigating their way back home after taking a wrong turn down an unfamiliar street. Or seeing the street lights come on and realizing you’re are at least a half hour from home.

[Shaky dissolve effect indicating we are transporting back into real time]

So, getting back to my competitors…

  1. TV
  2. Video games (funny, eh?)
  3. Organized sports
  4. Over-protective parents
  5. Fear of the unknown

Not that I have anything against a healthy dose of any of these things. But my goal is to introduce that sense of adventure back into kids (and adults) lives. Serving the adventure through technology is just a means to an ends.

To learn more about Timmo’s Challenge visit our website, follow us on Twitter, or like our Facebook page.

Stay tuned for more information on my trip to Helsinki! I’m sitting in the airport getting ready to take off as I write this.