Forget "Big Ideas" — Start with your North Star

"I'm beating myself up over trying to find my next big idea, and no matter how much energy I put into it, I feel like I'm no further ahead. What's a better approach for aligning my focus to find something I'm truly excited about?"

July 21st, 2021   |    By: Wil Schroter

The most impossible task for a Startup Founder is to "invent a big idea."

It's not because we lack creativity, it's because we wind up focusing our energy on the wrong thing. Big ideas, by themselves, are nearly impossible to corral in our minds because they are inherently either "not big enough" or "too big to tackle."

We tend to go about this all backward. We assume that once an idea is incredible enough, it will guide all of our actions thereafter. But that is like putting a map down on a table and saying "We want to go west!" without making this is the most reasonable path.


"What Do I Want This Idea To Achieve?"

Any idea can become a "big idea" if you work at it hard enough. What we should be more focused on is a step beyond that — what we want the idea to achieve. Our big ideas, and the startups that are borne from them, are a means to an end. Yet many of us will spend 99.9% of our time thinking about the means (the big idea) with very little thought given to the ends (the outcome).

A simple answer is likely going to be "I want to make money" or "I want to work for myself." That's great, but we've just described the outcome of every for-profit venture in this history of man. Our lack of detail is what's preventing us from narrowing down our view to focus on what we're really trying to achieve.

We have to be super specific if we want to start down a successful path with any new idea. "You want to make more money?" Why? How much (down to the penny) do we need? If we dig in deep and find out we need to make $1 million to solve 99% of our financial goals, then guess what — we can start literally anything any get there. A lack of specificity creates purview too wide to pin down, and thereby, we lose.

"What Do I Want To Avoid?"

Often figuring out what we want leads us to spin out of control with big ideas and visions, which is just as bad as not having any great idea at all. Another way to start to isolate what we're trying to achieve is simply to align with what we don't want to ever do again!

Imagine writing down a list of 10 things that we never, ever want to do. For example, when we built Startups.com, our list included things like "We never want to answer to anyone, ever" (You'll notice we don't have any VCs in our deal). It doesn't matter what's on our list, but having the list will inform a ton of paths and decisions that we can avoid altogether.

Consider that coming up with a big idea isn't just brainstorming, it's also a careful process of elimination to create focus around where we truly want to be. If we can build something incredible while never having to do the things we ever wanted to do, doesn't that sound like an incredible outcome?

"How Do I Want to Feel?"

How we feel about what we do may be the most important aspect of our big vision that we entirely overlook. For some reason, we assume that how our startup makes us feel is a byproduct of building a startup. But why does it have to be?

Before I created Startups.com I wanted to feel "helpful." I had no idea what the business was going to be, but I knew I wanted to spend my days feeling helpful, like the writing I'm doing right now. I knew that every day if I got up from my chair and felt "helpful to Founders" then I'd be achieving something that was fulfilling.

Optimizing our ideation around how we want to feel every day — maybe inspired, challenged, energized helps provide a powerful North Star. The opposite is also true, whereby something that makes us feel leveraged, stressed, and pointless is just as powerful of a motivator.

All of these parameters don't tell us what the idea is, but more importantly, it tells us specifically what all of the conditions that must be met in order for the idea to be good for us.

In Case You Missed It

The Curse of the 37-Year Old Founder (podcast) Let's talk about the dues founders pay for neglecting their health. Pushing yourself too much, putting your body through so much pressure, and then ignoring the warning signs as they come, you’re unconsciously trading your life for the success of your company.

Everyone Says My Idea is Dumb. Is It? Becoming a Founder is often the first time in our lives where the advice of others — even our parents — may not necessarily be useful advice. So let’s be hyper-aware about how we get feedback and who we're asking to evaluate our idea.

What is Product Differentiation? As Founders, how do we clarify the differences between our products and other products on the market while preventing overlap between the offerings?

About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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