For the last month, I’ve been getting very, very dirty. I’ve been up to my elbows and knees in the dirt, digging for gold. I’m not up in Porcupine Creek with the team from Gold Rush Alaska. I’m right here in Philadelphia and New York. The gold I’m after is entrepreneurial gold: successful new ventures that will bring not only financial rewards, but the satisfaction that comes from creating something new and valuable. Still, the process I’m using to uncover my “next big thing” isn’t all that different from how the Hoffmans are trying to pull precious metal out of the Alaskan soil.
A whole lotta dirt
The first stage is all about piling up the dirt. Every random idea of moment of inspiration that I have ends up on this list. It’s about 70 items long (mostly newer items from the past few months). Some of them are crazy, some are brilliant, and some are complete crap. Like brainstorming, this stage is not about measuring and evaluating. It’s just about getting it all down so you don’t forget it. Every entrepreneur has a list like this, and every aspiring entrepreneur SHOULD have one.
Shaking it out
With the list piled up high, its time to run it through “the shaker” and get rid of the big clunkers and boulders that obviously aren’t made of gold. I work my way down the list asking “does this item have serious potential” and “is this something I could realistically pursue?” That plan for a retirement community on the moon may have major profit potential (the old folks would LOVE the decreased gravity), but even if I had Richard Branson in my back pocket I’d probably never be able to make it happen. From 70 items on the list, I pulled out 8-10 that seemed both viable and financially attractive.
Washing it off
At this point, the short list are all ideas that “feel” good. It’s mostly gut instinct blended with random swirling thoughts. That’s not good enough to move forward. I need better visibility to narrow the field and wash out the pyrite (“Fools Gold”). Each idea gets a half page to a full page of structured analysis. What need would it address (ideally stated as an elevator pitch or mission statement)? What would the revenue model be? Who are the main sources of competition? What type of resources would it need to get off the ground? It’s amazing how much clarity this type of quick write-up can provide. As you go through it with each idea, some start to shine brighter than before and some look dull and dirty.
Panning it out
This is where I am right now. I have 4-5 ideas that made it through the “wash plant”. They each have real potential, so I have to figure out which of them to pursue and how to go about it. They may need teams, or funding, or strategic partnerships. They will also need some amount of me, and I can’t do them all at once. I need to figure out which to focus on. To do that, I’m taking a step deeper into each and writing preliminary business plans. They are rough and may never be finished, but by digging into the details in a structured way, I can figure out where to focus my energy. It also gives me a great head start towards pitching these ideas to potential investors and partners.
If this looks a lot like a funnel, that’s because it is. It’s essentially an ideation funnel, with raw inspiration going in the top, and polished nuggets of new businesses coming out the bottom. And like the men of Porcupine Creek, the closer I get to the bottom of that funnel, the more excited I get. I know I’m “on the gold” and its just a matter of time before I hit paydirt.