Friday, October 28, 2011

Generating and Selling a Tech Business Idea

This is the recording of the presentation I delivered at Refresh Colombo where I discussed how to generate and sell a tech business idea. For those of you who may be reading this from abroad some of the views may seem overly simple but bear in mind that the crowd at Refresh Colombo is a very diverse one. It isn't just a geek community but it also includes a lot of people who just have an interest in how technology is finding its way into every facet of life today. If you are looking into how to sell the idea my suggestion would be to skip to the second video but as I say right at the start, generating and selling are not two concepts that live apart from each other. They are interconnected and move together.

The essence of my talk revolves around these key concepts

Building the mindset to generate ideas

1) Discuss Discuss Discuss
As much as it may seem tempting to keep your ideas to yourself, it really doesn't serve much of a purpose. Why? Because by keeping the idea in belief that someone could somehow steal it and steal all of your future away you end up missing out on the amazing feedback you could have been receiving way before you even started working on it. Don't worry. Even Steve Jobs needed his engineering crew to take a good look at the GUI before whisking it away as their own.

2) Observe 
Observe and study areas you are familliar with and then areas you are not. Watch how people solve problems in these spaces. Why should you do this? Have you ever watched a leaf slowly being dragged along by a smaller stream of water into a much faster flowing one? You want to do that to your mind. Drag it along bit by bit until you suddenly find yourself flowing with ideas. Observation is key to understanding problems. Observation is also key to the next point

3) Predict
Predicting ideas is a way to get yourself out of the rut. It's not too difficult to reach a stage where you can observe and then speak of what you observed based on whatever that has happened or is currently happening. But attuning yourself to a trend and then striving to look beyond the trends into the future is something much more difficult. The reward of this mental exercise? Confidence that you are capable of identifying and solving problems. Confidence that grows each time your predictions become validated.

Generating your idea

1) Solve problems. Quit making them
For the love of whatever might be precious to you please don't ever consider creating a problem. Henry Ford may have said "If I gave people what they wanted I'd have made a faster horse" but that doesn't mean he created a problem. Where there's an unsatisfied need there's a problem and in Ford's case the problem was that people wanted to go faster. They just didn't know what they wanted to satisfy that need.

2) Find the Simplest Path
Finding the simplest path doesn't necessarily mean the easiest solution. What this actually means is getting right to the core issue, the root of all evil causing the problem, and try and solve it from there. Why I call this the simplest path is that when you try and solve something from a high level perspective what you end up with is a system that will forever feel gold plated. That's simply because deep at the heart of the system there remains an unsolved root cause. That root cause will always be the simplest path to the solution since often times you'll find that solving just that root problem will solve the myriad of high level surface problems that one might attempt to solve instead.

3) Connect different industries to find the best idea
This is a fairly simple concept. It's what artificial intelligence is to the hundreds of systems out there. It's what social media is to solving neighborhood level pollution. But I include this simply because as obvious as it may seem from the outset, a lot of people tend to ignore this as they form their own little bubble of thinking. It's fine if you are inventing something but leveraging the inventions effectively to create innovation? You need to connect multiple "industries" together. All of this does have a slightly deeper implication. If you want to succeed at creating an idea people want you need to really know the vertical you are trying to connect the technology to. Which goes all the way back to how you create your mindset.

Selling the idea

1) Describe the problem.
Unless people can understand what you mean by "an automated social X system for Y that helps do Z" avoid stating a summary of the system. Even if you do that, immediately shift into talking about the problem you are setting out to solve. It's a lot more attention grabbing if you can do that first.

2) Describe the solution
What are you going to do about the problem? What's the solution. Don't describe the system. To put it really simply, if the problem was tracking the time and attendance of workers at a factory manually then the solution would be an automated way which would electronically track people using a method which is super easy and fast. The system would be biometrics or punch cards or whatever. Which brings me to the third point,

3) Describe the system
When describing the system, don't ever ever go into specifics of combo boxes and what not. Goodness. I've heard this too many times. Talk about the process that one would go through in using the system instead. If you were describing Foursquare, don't say "the person will see a screen where they can tap check in". Asking the listener to visualize on the spot will distract them from understanding the system process. Say instead that "the person can see the locations around him/her and can choose which place to 'check in' to". Small difference. Makes a much bigger impact

4) The bottom line... So what?
What's the value in this. Sure it's a problem but what's the value? How big a problem is this? Is it a one trick pony? Is this all there is to it? What does it evolve into? If you are going to have a revenue model at the start what is it? Am I really going to want to pay for it? Your best bet to prepare for this is to talk to a person who is mostly incapable of taking risks. They'll ask you questions that'll make you wish you hadn't even bothered coming up with the idea but that's ok. That's how it should be. You may not know all the answers when you forge ahead. But knowing as many of the questions as possible is a definite advantage.

Well I hope some of this helps. Reminder. I'm an idea guy. I don't steal people's ideas so if you feel like talking about your ideas drop me a mail at . If you want to follow my tech updates both from around the world or this blog you can follow me on Twitter @area51research

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