Ten Cups of Coffee
One of my personal rules is that before making any big life decisions I take various people I trust out for a cup of coffee and get their input. When I’ve followed this rule I’ve usually ended up making good decisions, when I’ve ignored this rule I’ve usually ended up making decisions that I later regretted.
It’s a well-accepted axiom today that startup founders should spend a lot of time learning from customers and partners before they start to build a product. The Design Thinking framework starts with interviewing a bunch of prospective users before entering product development, and the Lean Startup methodology preaches showing a lot of early prototypes to various people so that the features you end up building are informed by interactions with real-life humans.
And yet many first-time entrepreneurs are still hesitant to go out and talk to anyone about their startup idea because they are afraid that someone will steal it.
For the most part, I think this fear is unfounded. People aren’t interested in stealing your idea. Also, any great entrepreneur has the ability to tell the story without giving away any secrets, so this really shouldn’t be a concern at all.
To put it another way: Business is all about weighing the risks vs the benefits — most business decisions are around that. In this case, you have to weigh the risk that someone is going to steal your idea against the benefit you’ll get from talking to people, getting their input, asking for referrals, etc. In 95% of the cases, I believe the benefit you’ll get from talking to people far exceeds the risk that someone is going to steal your idea.
So make a list of ten people you’re going to take out for coffee (or have a call with). People whose opinion you trust, people who are subject matter experts, people who are prospective customers, random people you find on LinkedIn who you think might be helpful. You’ll be amazed at how willing people are to help, and you’ll be amazed at the value of the input and referrals you will get.