Thursday, September 11, 2008
Startup Ideas and Painting
'Fecundity' by Richard von Kaufmann (2004)
During the first year at Zipipop we constantly debated how open we should be with our ideas. At the very beginning we even made people sign NDA's and this had some benefits: people realized we 'meant business'; they (maybe) felt privileged being invited into the inner circle; and it forced us to think hard about how we wished to present ourselves to the world.
However, since ideas are only valuable if they can be implemented, we soon realized that fast implementation, and accredited distribution, are by far the best way – in an industry that moves at breakneck speed – to protect a web-based idea.
By freeing up and putting our ideas 'out there', we were then able to more effectively garner input from the bright and busy intellects that flock around Zipipop; enabling us to refine our ideas faster and thereby making the implementation stage quicker and more efficient.
There are some that say that ideas are cheap and to some extent that is true. However, I really like this article about startup ideas by Paul Graham because it distinguishes between good ideas and valuable ideas: valuable ideas being great ideas that people want and are willing to pay for.
He also shows that great ideas come out of a long process of trail, error and adjustment. Zipiko has only been in development for less than five months, however, the fundamental idea came after more than a year of brainstorming and 'do-search' within Zipipop.
First we developed the idea of POPs (personal opinion polls), one of which was a date-picker, this then inspired us to work on a more full-on event organizer designed to cope with every imaginable scenario. For a small company (only three partners at the time) we clearly, in retrospect, bit of more than we could chew. But then we got hit and carried along by the mighty Facebook wave.
As a 'test' (or a subconscious excuse to deviate from the 'monster' project), we decided to do a couple of Facebook applications to see how we could later integrate our services into the exploding platform. We caught the tail end of the wave as it swept over Finland in the summer of 2007, and we soon became know locally as the Facebook company. For many months the event organizer was put on hold as we implemented a whole bunch of in-house and third party Facebook apps.
However, right from the beginning we had a conscious plan to develop for mobile platforms, and in light of this Facebook was a good playground for us: the discipline of delivering apps with a clear purpose, inside a restricted screen space, has prepared us well for small screen challenges. And it was our Going for One? Facebook app that was the direct predecessor to Zipiko.
The Paul Graham article also makes some nice analogies to painting and it reminded me of one of the greatest things my high school art teacher would constantly tell us; "Don't wait for inspiration, just start painting and the ideas will come." This method is almost infallible, however, there are times when you will spend months fiddling on a large respectable oil painting that people might – if you every finish it – smile upon approvingly; and then there are those rarer – more valuable – works, produced in a flurry of inspiration – usually as a break from that never ending project – that people will rave about.
This last phenomena has parallels with many famous web services, for example: flickr – the photo sharing was just part of a bigger game project; PayPal – the service was originally supposed to be a way of exchanging credit between handheld devices; and closer to home there is Habbo Hotel – started as a project to help promote their friends' band.
So far we can propose that: Great ideas come form an abundance of mental doodling, brainstorming and 'do-search'; great ideas are worthless if left in the dark; and for a startup, great ideas need to come with commercial value.
In light of all this we have decided to publish some of our ideas, since even if we fail to implement them before competitors, we can at least gain some beneficial recognition from exposing them to the light of day.