18
Nov

Bulletproof Your Ideas: Part 2 – Be a Skeptic

I previously talked about how to vet ideas by putting them through a quick screening process. Another good technique is to take your idea and argue the opposite. Philosophers have done this for centuries so I didn’t just make this up. In a nutshell: assume your idea sucks and try to convince yourself it doesn’t.

The technique is simple: take each of your claims (e.g. “people will buy our product”) and argue the opposite (e.g. “people will absolutely NOT buy our product”). You’ll be forced to spend time thinking about your idea’s flaws, which no entrepreneur enjoys doing. If you aren’t skeptical by nature, find someone who is. They’re usually easy to spot because they annoy you.

Here are some examples:

“We are first to market”

The Believer: Even if I see a competitor I’ll convince myself that they aren’t in my space. I somehow found a huge untapped market that everyone else in the world overlooked.

The Skeptic: I know there are competitors (including people who aren’t competitors now but will be later) and I want to be aware of them. My customer’s desire not to switch to my product is a form of competition. I doubt that being first to market is the right strategy anyways.

“Our market is huge and growing”

The Believer: I can quote a Forrester report about the market being $X billion. I still talk about how worldwide Internet use is growing, fast.

The Skeptic: It doesn’t matter how huge the market is, I can’t afford to reach everyone in it. Big markets attract big scary competitors and crowded markets drive down prices and margins. This early in the game I probably have no clue how to size my market anyways.

“We have a real competitive advantage”

The Believer: Everything about my startup, from the cool name to the indentation of my CSS is a competitive advantage. My competitors have great stuff but it’s not integrated

The Skeptic: Our customers don’t care about our differentiators. Most things we consider competitive advantages are easy for others to duplicate (unless they don’t work).

Playing the skeptic is unnatural for all entrepreneurs, that’s why it’s such a useful exercise. Sometimes that idea you’re only pretending to think sucks will actually suck at the end of the exercise.

Comments ( 5 )
  • Mark MacLeod says:

    Good advice Raymond. It’s tough for startups to do this by themselves as they are so consumed with drinking the kool aid. Often it takes an outside facilitator like yourself to bring the objective or sobering point of view.

  • » Weekend Reading - November 22, 2008 | StartupNorth says:

    […] Bulletproof your idea… Part 1 + Part 2. […]

  • » One small step for startup kind | StartupNorth says:

    […] The change over the past 20 years is that the monthly expenses have decreased. It no longer costs hundreds of thousands of dollars for hardware, development environments, net access, etc. The price of servers continues to fall, and with the advent of cloud computing and dynamic loads it is becoming variable with the load on your site or application. Development environments are free. Usually the single biggest cost for a startup is talent. Oh wait, you’re not paying yourself and you don’t have any employees. This has 2 side effects, it reduces the monthly expenses thus lengthening the runway, but it can also have adverse side effects like not forcing entrepreneurs to be self critical of their ideas and their progress.  […]

  • One small step for startup kind | DavidCrow.ca says:

    […] The change over the past 20 years is that the monthly expenses have decreased. It no longer costs hundreds of thousands of dollars for hardware, development environments, net access, etc. The price of servers continues to fall, and with the advent of cloud computing and dynamic loads it is becoming variable with the load on your site or application. Development environments are free. Usually the single biggest cost for a startup is talent. Oh wait, you’re not paying yourself and you don’t have any employees. This has 2 side effects, it reduces the monthly expenses thus lengthening the runway, but it can also have adverse side effects like not forcing entrepreneurs to be self critical of their ideas and their progress.  […]

  • Playing to Lose | FLOW Ventures says:

    […] You only have one strategy. A good sign that you are playing to lose is that you can’t describe several alternative strategies in detail. A strategy is only as good as the ones you considered, but rejected. Be a skeptic. […]

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