Startup 411: Part I | Expressing the Idea
Updated: Jun 4, 2021
This article is part one of a discussion series on key components of the startup experience. The Startup 411 articles collectively tie to the downloadable deck attached below, supporting entrepreneurs, step by step, on their journey from idea to inception.
Thankfully, there is no formula that describes what is and isn’t a good business idea, but the good ones usually include many of the following;
Idea solves a problem or improves upon an existing condition in product or service.
Idea has a unique element(s) that separates it from all other products or services.
Idea reinvents, by new technology or a new approach or purpose, an existing product or service.
Idea has long lasting legs, and is not subject to a passing short term trend or a fad.
Idea describes a new, out of the box concept that matches Apple’s “Think Different” doctrine: “People never had it, so they don’t know they want it, until they see it, and realize they can’t live without it.” This unique class of ideas is normally born out of new technology, a science discovery, or a significant change in behavior.
The idea can be narrated, and expressed in simple and understandable terms.
The audience that hears the idea, generally likes it.
Who, What, Why & How.
Each of the ingredients above are worthy of a lengthy discussion. But let’s stay focused on the task at hand: Why expressing the idea is so important, and how to achieve it. Remember this is not a thesis. It is rather a carefully crafted paragraph, no more than a third to a half of a page, but so precisely crafted that nothing is repeated, and nothing of importance is left out. From this written document, you will be able to extract a couple of sentences for a verbal articulation, an elevator pitch if you will, something like; ("The Thor Report is a blog that advises startup entrepreneurs, from a time of realizing an idea to launching it as a business.) The full expression provides you with the foundation that enables you to discover not just the pitch for your business idea, but also come up with the tagline; ( "An Entrepreneurs Mind Space"), the purpose bullet; ("Supporting Startups and Entrepreneurs"), the vision statement; ("Turning Ideas into Enterprises") which leads you to discover the essence that wasn't clear before, that the mission is really; "We Help Entrepreneurs Succeed!".
It mounts to writing the company "Manifesto", describing who you are, what you are and why you are, providing a foundation that helps you develop how you are going to do it; the essential principles you build your enterprise on.
Think of the articulation as honing in a talent. In the beginning it sounds clumsy, over time it gets smoother. It is no different than improving in sports, playing an instrument or painting a picture. The more you do it, the better it gets. When you think it is in a good place, realize you have, still, a long way to go. And as with arts and sports, improvements never end. Articulation is essential because it is the tool to communicate the idea, to collaborators, team, investors, your friends. Everyone who hears it must understand it. And in order to explain it well, you must be the first to understand it well. Living with it in your head is one thing. Being able to articulate it in writing and out loud is quite another. It requires considerable brain exercise, time lapse and work process. It is helpful to start with the source of the idea. Perhaps it is rooted in your personal experience, expressing a solution to a problem, a personal need, or an observation of something lacking. Approaching the narrative from a problem solution descriptive is perhaps the most common way to present an opportunity, we will cover this at length in another article about the pitch. The how and why the idea came about may not end up in the final version of the narrative, but it is a necessary foundation for articulation, it will help you root the idea in language. Next consider this quote from Stephen King: “A thought process is never complete without articulation.” What he is saying is that the act of writing your idea down is your brain processing the idea towards achieving great articulation. It is only then that the idea becomes fully understood. Writing is the tool that organizes your mind around the idea, and fine tunes it through rewrites, until its expression reaches a comprehensive and matured state, in the form of a written text which can then be distilled in a verbal articulation, bullets, taglines, vision, purpose and so much more.
Why Rewrites are Important.
Like any exercise, rewriting represents honing of a skill. Embrace rewrites, multiple rewrites. It will take you days, weeks, and even months living with your writing to accomplish a presentable articulation. It can be frustrating at times because you become too close to the idea, and you can't see the sentence for the words. A deliberate distancing can be helpful, to see it clearly again. Time can provide that distance. A third eye, someone else’s viewpoint, also helps, providing an altered perspective, a different point of view. Some live with their ideas for years. While some will always argue that a fresh idea needs to hurry up before someone steals it, I have found fresh and original ideas to have lasting currency. There is no expiration date on a great idea. Bitcoin and Ethereum existed for over a decade before Dogecoin succeeded. Online brokerages existed for decades before Robinhood came along. Stressing over imaginary expiration is counter productive to the development process. As you keep revisiting your idea in a written form, you keep improving upon the idea itself, as well as sharpening your own understanding of it. This can be very rewarding as you realize your idea has dimensions and depth you had not seen before. It solidifies it even further as a great idea. Over time the idea becomes very clear in your mind’s eye. It may even turn out quite different from what you started with. This is nothing to fear, it is another sign of your idea maturing. At the same time, your ability to articulate it improves each and every time your brain, eyes and fingers engage it. In the end, you are immersed in it, you have taken on its scent and shape, and you are able to talk about it blindfolded and backwards. You know your material.
The act of writing is also a stress test. It is not just a tool to organize your thoughts around an idea but also a method to test it for validity and merit. Once it has been well articulated, sharing it with trusted friends and family is necessary. It goes without saying here that you should always select truth speakers over cheerleaders for advise. You want to expose the truth of whether your idea is good or not. Bad ideas do not deserve to survive. If an idea dies during this process, it was supposed to. It is a lot less expensive and consequential way to die, than a year down the road, when money, time and people are invested. In my experience, the rewriting process exposes shallow and unworthy ideas, long before you share it. It is dead long before you express it to others. Rest assured, you did not waste your time, because the process improved your skills in writing ideas and articulating them. An athlete that loses in competition one day, is still a great athlete, and will live to win another day. If your idea survives the process of multiple rewrites however, and still resonates with you, it is likely to resonate with your trusted advisors, and many others as well. You've proven it has merit.
You have created a narrative that describes your idea in precise terms. With it, you have acquired an ability to articulate the idea to others, narratively and verbally. It will play an essential role as foundation for branding, marketing, culture; essentially becoming the solid ground on which the company can be built. You have completed your idea expression, and it passed the stress test, with yourself, and your audience. It now exists in writing, in a clear and concise form. With it you have been able to establish who and what it is, why it is, and are ready to proceed on how you are going to accomplish it. Without realizing it, you’ve become the first person to green light your own business concept. You have become the number one advocate and believer in the idea, and you have become a believer in yourself as well. Both are equally critical ingredients for the road ahead.
For an example of a completed "business idea expression," download Startup 411: Turning Ideas into Enterprises, below.