Business for Geeks 101: Part 1 of N – Getting Started

I've noticed an odd occurance lately. It seems that a few times each and every week, I get emails from friends, acquaintenances, family, and even random people asking for advice on their business, their business plans, or often just their ideas. The generous and friendly ones invite me out for drinks or to lunch, but I realize that most of what I've shared with them has revolved around a handful of points. To further clarify and expand upon them, I thought I'd share them here and offer them up to the community for criticism and comment.

* If I don't know you, thanks for the consideration, but I'm not going to review your business plan. I may not even respond to you via email. I'm not trying to be rude, I'm protecting my time just as you would protect yours.
* I am not an attorney, so nothing here should be taken as legal advice.
* By “geek”, I mean “highly esteemed technologist without regard to color coordination abilities”. I wouldn't want to tick off the higher geek echelons. 😉

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's cover the basics: Getting Started.

What do you need to get started?

Most people think that you need a killer innovative idea to get things rolling. Something that no one else has ever considered or even tried. Something that will shatter business paradigms and fundamentally change the way we live, work, and play. Bzzt. Wrong.

Innovation is great, innovation drives further innovation, and innovation drives new business models, technology, and sometimes even new industries (look at Adsense fraud), but it's not required in quite that sense of the word. There are two types of innovation: evolutionary and revolutionary. Evolutionary innovation can be something as simple as a third brake light (in the US). The idea of having an additional brake light in the back window is not all that creative, but it was shown to reduce accidents so in the mid-80's, it was mandated in cars and is now standard. Revolutionary innovation on the other hand is huge and life changing. Email is the simplest example. I'm involved with some of the people planning our upcoming high school reunion. In a matter of moments, I had gotten in touch with classmates ranging from Alaska to upstate New York to Switzerland for approximately $0. This changes the way we live and work. Now, back on point…

Many geeks get stuck on the idea of revolutionary change but there are tens of thousands of people and organizations that take an existing concept, make a useful change, and make a bundle from it. The revolutionary changes are the riskiest as they are the most difficult to sell and often the most expensive. The evolutionary changes are the complete opposite. There are already users and the underlying concepts are relatively well developed.

In fact, if you look at companies ranging from 3M to McDonalds to 37Signals, you'll notice a familiar pattern. The company sells a product which is an incremental improvement over the competition. By doing this, they can afford to fund and take the risk of the revolutionary innovation.

So what's my point?

Get over yourself. Creating something completely new is fun, satisfying, and a claim to fame, but it is often not a way to get started. If you have an idea, take it, try it out, work up a demo, show it to friends, give it to your mom, and talk to your target customers. You're going to get feedback and will make the idea better whether its revolutionary or not.

Just get started…