If it Ain’t Fixed, Break it!

You’ve probably heard the idiom, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. Well, this is probably the last advice you should apply to early stage ventures.   Guess what, it probably is broken and you need to fix it!  Let me give you a couple of examples where the reverse is actually what’s needed (Break it before you can hope to fix it, that is).

Some of you are probably familiar with consumer product teardown services offered by companies such as iSuppli and TechInsights (FKA Portelligent).  In a product teardown, specialists systematically disassemble a given electronics product and take meticulous notes as to the underlying system architecture, components and bill of materials.  This process is done for competitive analysis or out of sheer curiosity.    Come to think of it, it’s one way to revolutionize a stale market – as the Michael Dell story proves.

In military basic training (which I had the unique pleasure of experiencing as a conscript in Portugal, lest the Spanish still decide to attack us), the drill sergeant’s job is essentially two fold:  Break you down; instill a feeling of being part of something greater than yourself; and then, build you back up again (into a lean mean fighting machine, especially mentally)

drill-sergeantAs you enter an early stage venture, and if you’re anything like past entrepreneurs (or intrapreneurs), you and your idea are probably two sides of the same coin – it’s true that your idea is an intangible and it would be something entirely different in the hands of someone else.   However, and this is the hardest thing any mentor would ask you to accept, don’t see your idea as ‘your baby’.  You see, you WILL receive criticism through this or any other entrepreneurial process, it’s natural.  And thus you shouldn’t put yourself in a position that makes criticisms equivalent to calling your baby ugly.

So if not a biological extension of yourself, you could see your idea as a unifying cause or a community, which others are invited to join on their own freewill, which you will respect and accept objectively.

So the first thing I’d recommend as you begin your new venture is for you to separate yourself from your idea.   The second thing I advise is for you to then recruit your core team as well as a group of advisors.   Thirdly, and together with your core team, tear down your initial idea into its basic components on both market opportunity and solution aspects.   It will be helpful to sketch some form of visual mind-map or other form of taxonomy tool to not only categorize the various components of your idea but also to jot down some sub-components, alternatives, and adjacencies.    From an initial target market hypothesis, you should write down other related opportunities and from an initial technology solution, you should write down other means to the same end.

Spend some days deeply understanding the components that seem critical, not being so quick to come to judgment as to which are ultimately needed to complete your business model architecture.  Then gradually, begin to build your idea back up again, one critical component at a time, iterating as needed per actual market feedback.  But remember to do this as a team, make everyone part of the solution, part of a community – including the customer (and possibly partners).  Diverge before you converge, lest you miss some creative aspect that sets your idea apart – there are deadlines to meet eventually. “so be quick, but don’t hurry” – John Wooden


One comment

  • Tearing down an idea – great idea! But, as stated in the text, often times only possible if the person that came up with it is able to “let got” and accept to challenge even the best idea and looks out for potential ways to improve it. Therefore, I would agree that the critical factor here is to ignore “ownership” which is associated with individualism and accept “discussion” with is associated with collectivism as a team. Once this happens, good ideas might become great. And successful.

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