Lots of ideas start off in ‘stealth mode’: “It was my secret hobby, very much for my own amusement”, this is how a now successful full-time children’s author got started – with his ‘secret hobby’ of writing on his daily commute. However, central to many strategies for successful start-up ventures is the importance of sharing your idea with others.
This sharing might be a confessional chat or starting to conduct primary research with prospective users or customers as part of a Lean Startup process.
Get out of stealth mode and into sharing mode
In my side project research, the catalytic impact of sharing ideas has taken a variety of forms and has a variety of benefits.
The first and foremost reason for sharing ideas is simply to share; for the potentially cathartic release of revealing your ‘secret hobby’ and gaining some degree of empathy or sympathy concerning your hitherto private interest. At the very least it’s nice to get the tolerance of those closest to you for the time and energy you spend on the idea, at best you might find another enthusiast who empathises and collaborates. Simply saying it out loud also helps you articulate what you’re trying to do, having to explain it for someone else helps you understand it better too.
Seeking empathy or sympathy is typically something sought from family or friends; but the second reason for sharing is better from strangers: validation. “It’s really hard to get genuine feedback, friends and family worry about your self-esteem. You need a trusted source to help get your self-confidence over the tipping point. My writing got a lot better a lot quicker after that.” Will Mabbit makes the point that sometimes you want the idea or project validated by people who a) will be honest rather than caring and/or b) expert in the field of the idea or project. Gaining that kind of validation can be catalytic as Will also points out:
“Finally showing someone meant that I stopped only writing for myself; I think when you start something you work on it by yourself and it can get to a certain level, but to break through you have to share. Your initial habits got you going but they’re not good enough to progress.”
I think all my interviewees would share the view that their activities got more serious and professional once they started sharing; it was a distinctive step-up.
Thirdly, experts, peers, and prospective users or customers can also not just validate an idea but provide feedback and advice on how to develop it further. If their validation is tempered by some constructive criticism then this is a real turning point for an idea. Up to this point it’s been relatively self-indulgent; you’ve been doing it because you enjoy it, not because it has any value to anyone else. At this point you have a choice to make, continue to forge on based on solely your own pleasure and whim, or start to do the harder graft of developing something that others have a stake in too and respond to their criticisms.
Fourthly, sharing with others creates opportunities, networks and luck. The more people know about it the more likely you are to find useful resources, challenging provocations, new audiences, and potential collaborators. These can accelerate, enhance, but also challenge and change your idea in unexpected ways.
Most of my side project interviewees have reflected to me that simply talking about their side project has shed new light on it for them; not necessarily because of any analysis by me, but just the process of talking about it out loud and thinking about their motivations and methods. Sharing is a great way to sense-check things in your own head.
Finally, sharing is part of formally researching and testing your ideas with prospective users and customers. Design Thinking approaches to idea development focus on engaging with humanity to see what they do, say, think, and pay attention to – and this helps develop a more impactful and engaging venture. Then Lean Startup would suggest that early and frequent engagement with customers helps hone the product you’re developing.
According to CB Insights the single biggest reason most startups fail (42%) is that there is ‘no market need’ – i.e. nobody wants what you’re offering. So sharing (and testing) is fundamental to finding a market to sustain your venture.