Smart Idea Vs What-You-Love Vs Will-it-get-funded?

Its a similar theme to what I've written about on this blog earlier.

Essentially (from a tweet I'd made yesterday) :

Betwn a "smart idea that has major potential" and "a nice idea which you'd love to execute" which would you pick? #entrepreneur #philosophy

Some responses -

@zenx I'd go for the latter. The 1st one is pure business potential, but does not address skills or liking - both critical to keep u going. @raodyboy

@zenx "A nice idea you would love to execute " any day it's about you at the end of the day and not abt the idea itself @lalitgbhise

@zenx Most ideas in startups change, even the 'smart' ones. If you love working on a problem, you'll hit upon an idea that has potential. @avinashatreya

@zenx I must admit it's a hacker's perspective. From a biz PoV, if something has potential, and others consider it a PITA, nothing like it! @avinashatreya

@zenx @avinashatreya by no means am I disregarding the need for a good biz model. The "love" is needed to stay driven at all times. @raodyboy

@zenx it should be a bit of both. Else you stand to lose either your money or your passion or both @biggfoot

@zenx Agree with @avinashatreya ; There needs to be a fine balance though & a lot of "common sense" :) @m_mekin

@zenx Depends on how interested you are in the first. Is passion inherent to an idea or is it part of execution? #entrepreneur #philosophy @sids

@zenx "a nice idea which you'd love to execute" for me @randombrick

Most folks instinctively went for the "love to execute" part - yet on reconsidering it some wanted to ensure it made business sense, and even had a business plan.

Now a lot of startups I've known about did not really have a clue to what revenue models they could realistically go after. Amazingly, a lot many of these were not even things the folks doing them were totally into, or believed in deep inside. They were essentially of the nature of being "great opportunities" from a cool-sounding technology point of view, and something that might attract investors. The ones who were more in love with the thing they started out doing did not write up formal business plans, or have fixed time-frames vs. returns targets, or want to attract a million dollar fund.

As an example - a lot many travel companies which want to, like so many before them, help search tickets across airlines. Surely there's more to travel? Were the founders real travelers themselves ? Did they truly want to make a difference to how travel related planning/execution happened ? Of course there's success to be grabbed in this model itself, though no way thats ever getting as sticky as an IndiaMike. Or even GetOffUrAss. The former thrives on operational, technological efficiency and deal-making capabilities. The latter - both in the commercial format and otherwise - live and grow off their enthusiasm for travel/India and the creativity and interest to go-deeper.

Numerous real estate sites are essentially listings of properties, like the last one and the one before. I do remember one which took a shot at playing concierge for buyers and tried hand-holding them through the process. But most are about a cooler website, or a better interface. The nuts and bolts of the industry the startup enters seem to not be appealing, or even factors in the startups plans. Thats a "will somehow get past that".

Perhaps thats the part that needs the "passion" - the word that's gotten a little overused in every venture's context. Not the passion to overcome an operational challenge, or create an engineering solution, or other such meta goals - but the passion for the core of the business.

Questions to ask: Do I love this space ? Understand it so well I can make a real difference to the consumer ? Am I building gloss and UI, or value that will be appreciated irrespective of the gloss ? Do I enjoy the attributes I'm trying to make a difference to ? Can I empathize with the consumer ?

Of course, I'm sure there are people who live for ensuring every opportunity is made use of, and build great businesses targeting those specific opportunities, on top of their team building, marketing and operational skills. A majority of businesses in India are not necessarily driven by people's love for what they do - its not a love for fashion that drives the average textile retailer, or passion for music that makes a successful label.

But for those who translate their deep interest in an area into a venture, the chances of overcoming the lack of skills in marketing, or team creation, or the lack of contacts, etc, are good. For this kind of an entrepreneur, being totally into the space you're getting into helps. The specific idea can change, but it helps if you totally love the area you're into - you'll overcome hurdles that much more enthusiastically.

Your love of reading, understanding of books, authors and genres will help a lot if you're getting into publishing, or starting a library. The Premier Book Shop off Church Street - a small outlet compared to some of the big guys - had a kind of repeat clientèle few bookstores would see. The guy knew his books, and his customers. Sure he did not have (or probably want) scale, and new-age inventory management, a snazzy web interface, multiple delivery and billing option, etc, might've helped. But his customers - who went to him ever so often - did not go for those attributes - but for the connect he created with books. It was the deep love and knowledge of the books, not the technology or operations that catalogued, or sold, or delivered them, that kept people hooked.

This depth of the "intangibles" is what a truly devoted enthusiast can bring to the venture. Its provides a differentiator that is rock solid, becuase its not dependent on this feature or that, or a fleeting advantage in price points or suchlike. The "love for the cause" brings a certain authority, flexibility and even respect and friendships that customers gravitate towards.

So what kind of an entrypreneur are you ? Think hard and you'll know which ideas will sustain, and which will get "boring" or fade with the reduced relevance of the current idea.

Good Salary Advice

Joel Spolsky discusses how salaries are fixed in his organization.

I agree with the overall attempt at subjectivity, though I believe it would be great if we could really "spread around ownership" in the truest sense, and that includes transparency in salaries, bonuses and figuring out if, as a company, we did x% on our bonuses, etc. That automatically includes involvement in fixing targets, a participative approach to strategy and tactics, and ownership of a small business that has scope for independent growth, if possible!

There's a very nice point made towards the end of that article:

At the same time, if you hear a lot of griping about salaries, you shouldn't look just at your system for paying people. One thing I've learned from experience is that happy, motivated employees who are doing work they love and feel they are being treated as adults don't gripe about money unless their pay is egregiously unfair. If you hear a lot of complaints about salaries, I suspect that's probably a manifestation of a much bigger disease: Your employees aren't deriving enough personal satisfaction from their work, or they are miserable for other reasons.

This is soooo true and its amazing how often even smart people try and fix just the symptoms. Unless you're totally off the charts, there are usually deeper reasons for the dissatisfaction, and unless there's a genuine effort to fix those, the symptoms will flare up again in one form or the other.