Idea Filters

Nowadays everything seems fungible. Discussion of the successors to credit cards and gas-powered cars is common in a way that discussion of those to paper currency and oil lamps never was. The status quo is so quickly shifting that any everyday annoyance is seen as a gap to be quickly filled, an opportunity waiting for any company that will seize it.

Of course, however, not everyone who notices such an annoyance will jump to form a company around it. Most people never really pursue these ideas; they acknowledge them and patiently await their solution by someone else. Those who do attempt a solution will only do so up to a certain cost. It’s human nature to be at least somewhat risk averse. Your valuation of cost, however, is not strictly a function of missed opportunities or necessary resources; this blow can often be softened when a project is compatible with your identity and predilections.

The ideas that seem good enough by your personal criteria–that successfully pass through your idea filter–are the ones that you will pursue. These Idea Filters vary from one person to the next, but they all derive from weighing of cost and potential payout. I can think of two sorts of people who are reasonably likely to pursue an idea for a startup: hackers who are enticed by the prospect of coding and business types who are won over by the prospect of growing a business.

So, essentially, we have two categories of idea filters: filters biased toward projects and filters biased toward companies. A hacker is happy to build an interesting piece of software, but a business type more eager to make a slide deck and take seed money. What does this mean about the ideas which each type then settles on? Hackers lead with a concrete and niche product, one which solves a problem before it sells itself. Business types like ideas that immediately lend themselves to business development, grand concepts that will win pitch contests.

Importantly, it seems that the filter biased toward projects is more effective. Why would this be? The filter biased toward companies rather than projects gravitates toward more obvious ventures, that is, the ones whose value can be conveyed to a room full of suits. On the other hand, the filter biased toward simple projects doesn’t rely upon prescience and so, since the author is making no claim about its potential, will bear less obvious ventures. Thus the hacker has the advantage: to work toward the groundbreaking takes a willingness to build the mundane, to pursue ventures with less clear potential. If it seems like a profound jump, the goal probably lies on the opposite side of some difficult steps. However, if you’re willing to make the incremental step toward a project, you know that you’re on the right path toward improvement; all that’s left to be discovered is how far this path will lead.

Every startup begins with an idea that seems worthwhile to its founder. However, founders whose filters don’t demand a well-defined end goal are often able to surpass any that they may have set forth initially. The start of something new will almost surely be as something small; such a venture will only reach maturity at the hands of a craftsman who will let his art determine its own destination.


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