Entrepreneurs often ask me, “how do you pick an idea for a business?” and the question is difficult answer. With the first startup I launched, Ciplex, I was passionate about web design and the firm naturally grew after I started hiring people to meet the demand from businesses for good websites. With my second company, Open Me, the idea grew out of a personal friendship with Tom Ryan, the CEO of Threadless, in a kind of eureka moment when we thought: “how great would greeting cards be if the artwork was crowdsourced from thousands of artists around the world?”
I recently spoke with Richard Price, the 33-year-old Founder and CEO of Academia.edu, whose ideas around choosing and developing a business idea were both thought-provoking and filled with wisdom.
Academia.edu’s mission is certainly a noble one: Price wants to get every single science PDF ever written available on the internet, for free. Having raised $11.1 million in Series B funding in September, the company just passed the six million user mark, and shows no sign of slowing down — with over 12 million people visiting the site every month.
While I’m no scientist, I was impressed by Price’s methodology around building a startup, and thought his wisdom would be beneficial for other entrepreneurs. The following are Price’s tips for creating a lasting and powerful business idea:
Choose an idea you think is important
A sense of importance around what you are doing is critical, because that alone will nourish you through the inevitable ups and downs involved in running a business. “Find a company you can pour ten years of your life into, and one you can be proud of,” urges Price. There is no better form of motivation than having a sense that you are investing your blood, sweat, and toil into something important, and that — even if you fail – at least you failed doing something that was important.
As soon as you can, write down a mission statement — ideally as a blog post
Articulate your mission, what you aim to do, and why its important, says Price. It seems simple, but a well-articulated blog post that is publicly visible is better than any business plan you could ever write. Not only is such an exercise great for internal morale, it will also help outsiders to see your vision, and can become a rallying point for others to get involved — whether that’s investors, engineers, or future employees. It wasn’t until a few years after Price founded Academia.edu that he wrote his first blog post, which he submitted and was able to have published on the popular technology news website TechCrunch. In retrospect, he wished he had done it sooner: “Even if you haven’t built your idea yet, simply writing it down will have a transformative effect on how you think about what you’re doing.”
Focus on growth
Many companies fail because they aren’t disciplined enough about growth. The philosophy of “if we build it, they will come,” generally speaking, is not true. Companies that look like they grew like wildfire, were in fact founded by entrepreneurs who thought very seriously about growth. You need to think about where growth is going to come from. The best way to do this is to look to the industry or companies most similar to yours, and find out what you can about their strategy for growth. When Price built Academia.edu, he studied Linkedin, Bebo, High5, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest; he knew the growth profile and retention profile of every single company in the social space. If you are going into e-commerce, study in a very serious way how Amazon grew, how Zappos grew, and how diapers.com grew. Know the industry you are going into, and learn what you can from those who went before you.
Learn from others, but retain a strong independent vision
Finding out what has worked and what hasn’t for others is valuable, but don’t let your knowledge of what others have done crowd out your own independent thought. Too much dovetailing or being in the Silicon Valley echochamber can encourage a certain degree of incremental thought, notes Price. Balance needs to be found between the advice given from others and one’s own strong powerful vision. Elon Musk is famous for saying “Don’t reason by analogy,” which means don’t make every decision about what will work and what won’t work because of what someone else’s approach was. Be a student of the space you are getting into, but independent of it at the same time.
A common mistake for first-time entrepreneurs is that they are often not disciplined enough about making a value proposition that is simple. They try to build too many features early on, none of which work very well. Engineering is expensive and one can only bite off small chunks at any one time to do them well. It’s better to something that solves a specific painpoint, and then build from there toward your larger vision for the company, than to try to take on everything at once. That said, make sure what your building has the potential to be a real company. Sometimes entrepreneurs go in the opposite direction, and build features instead of companies — ideas that ultimately can’t be segwayed into a larger vision down the road.
Tenacity and Determination
You’ve got to be a friend of the struggle. When Price first told people his idea to accelerate the world’s research by bringing it online, people thought he was crazy; they were adamant that science wouldn’t move out of the domain of journals and wouldn’t become open. Just a few years later the tide of opinion is changing, science is moving online, and notable investors like Vinod Khosla and Bill Gates are putting money into the space. An essential part of befriending the struggle is believing in the importance of what you are doing, and then not giving up when people tell you your goals are impossible. The message of tenacity and determination applies to every area of your business, from raising money to product development to hiring. Knock on every door, if something fails, try something else, and turn over every stone in every area of the business.
Don't Miss: The Best HDR TVs
Don't Miss: Incredible Pokemon Gifts