Friday, June 01, 2012

"I thought people had an idea first before leaving"

This comment about my departure from Google got me thinking. The cultural stereotype is that of a guy frustrated with his office job who dreams up a better widget, quits, and starts building it the next day.

But that's not how it works.

For web and mobile products, the act of building or prototyping is where you do most of the learning. I believe that you can't come up with great ideas in a vacuum. You build some mocks, you write some code, and you discover a bunch of things that you could improve on. That's how you come up with the 10x improvements that startups need to succeed. reMail was a great example for this: It took 3 iterations around the same space to come up with a product that got attention and users - it was almost a year into the company when it hit me that you could store and search all your email on your iPhone. No one talks today about the two products we built before the one that succeeded.

Ideas are easy[*]. Give me some smart friends to brainstorm with and we'll come up with several great ideas today that will be $100M+ businesses in a few years - and a lot that won't be. It's about finding the good ones and the ones that you're passionate about working on for a long time.

There's another common thought I hear voiced often: That you have to come up with an idea that no one else has done before - a green field idea. That's wrong. Competition in a space is often a sign that there's something valuable there. Competition is energizing. A lot of the ideas I'm thinking about exploring already have established players or startups - it's just that I think I can execute much better than them.


[*] This used to say "Ideas are dime a dozen" but that upset some people and I changed it to a phrasing that more accurately states what I mean. In the next sentence, I added "- and a lot that won't be" for the same reason.


Anonymous said...

"Give me some smart friends to brainstorm with and we'll come up with several great ideas today that will be $100M+ businesses in a few years."

Oh rly.

Anonymous said...

Cool story, bro.

Gabor said...

Yes of course. If you bring some people together of YCombinator / Google caliber, you can come up with a lot of ideas in a day that will be huge businesses - and a lot of ideas that won't be. The hard part is figuring out which is which.

My argument here is that it's easy to come up with ideas if you've worked in the mobile/web space for a while. What matters is how well you can execute against those ideas relative to other players.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"Give me some smart friends to brainstorm with and we'll come up with several great ideas today that will be $100M+ businesses in a few years."

Oh rly.

+1 ... I am getting real tired of this sort of arrogance from this breed of google employees

Nilesh Jethwa said...

This is how the bubble starts. Back then every body thought it was easy to make money.

Now, it is a step backwards. Everybody thinks it is easy to build startups so they can sell/make big money.

People are launching products in two days (over the weekend) and they don't even have decent documentation.

Compare this to how it took me 3 yrs to build infocaptor including documentation

Gabor said...

Before this thread goes down the inevitable route to "it's a bubble" trolling, let me restate my point in a way that's more clear.

I think it is in fact possible to come up with great business ideas. It's not easy, but for people that have been working in the space for a while and have put their 10000 hours in - and I think it's fair to put myself in this category - it's something that is quite doable.

However, the truly great ideas aren't the ones that you brainstorm up with your friends over a drink or two. The difference between an idea and a great business is in actually writing that code, building that UI, and trying to get those customers. You might have to take multiple shots at this, because if you follow one of these ideas for a while, you might find out it's not as promising as you thought.

It's not the specific idea that counts. You have to be flexible. Given these constraints, you shouldn't leave your job with an idea in mind that you're not willing to change.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas can come from different sources, in the shower, while working on something else, or just from trying to scratch your own itch. It's implementing them that's the trick. Most often, you don't even need to work at a problem for a long time, you can work on a startup on the side while you remain at your job. I strongly disagree with the first step being to quit your job. Not that this can't help, but its usually not necessary. The reason for this is that any minimum viable product you set off building can be built in a few months of part time work while you retain your job. If you feel that you need to quit your job to build your dream, you're biting off way more than you can chew before you've established that there's even a market for your product. As long as you keep realistic expectations about what you can do yourself and outsource some of the more time consuming stuff (legal work, paperwork, social media marketing, etc) there's really no reason you have to deprive yourself of income initially. I mean, there's dozens of companies listed at BuyFacebookFansReviews that do nothing other than promote Facebook pages...there's a ridiculous number of options to outsource and focus on your core business idea while you're employed and making some income. Most startups die off because they run out of money just before they make it big. Quitting your job too early in the process can doom you to failure. I think its a bad move to make quitting your job the first step. In certain contexts it can be good to quit your job, but I don't think it's the default choice for the position that most people are in in such a down economy. Smart people that are of YCombinator quality can work on multiple projects at once and see if their ideas take off before leaping into something. That's the ideal for most startups that don't initially have funding.

kate mats said...

I always found it inspiring to know Google was the 13th search engine.

Anonymous said...

I think you should be a little more careful with your language. I agree with what you are saying, in part, but you should not overstate things. If you exagerate even a little, it trips everyones bullshit detecter. All the best :)

Gabor said...

Thanks Anonymous. I changed the phrasing to more accurately reflect what I mean.

My goal is to state the facts as I perceive them, not to appease my audience.

Ramy Dodin said...

Thanks for this Gabor. You must sever the umbilical cord and fully immerse. Activating the survival instinct is the only way to unlock your creative potential.

Anonymous said...

Pedantry is massively inflated on the internet. For some strange reason, a lot of people have knee-jerk reactions to minor points in an argument instead of reacting to the central point. Interestingly, this does not happen on small forums populated by intelligent people.

cole said...

When your work pays off and you start to gain traction, things start happening quickly. No time to tie up loose ends. Better be ready.

Anonymous said...

Anonymouses: thousands of people have imagined things like Groupon, Pinterest, Facebook, and basically every successful business out there, years before they happened - they just didn't set out to make them real. If you're into tech you probably had a dozen of those yourself.

So no, it's not hard to imagine $100m ideas, but you won' tbe able to tell them apart from $0 ones. Take notes and see for yourself.