Most entrepreneurs have their heads buzzing with about a gazillion ideas at one time, each of which needs to be started immediately. The question often isn’t ‘what should I do?’ But, rather ‘where do I start?’ We then start over-analysing and get into a phase of analysis paralysis. So how do you organise your thoughts into a list of actionable items?
1. Write down every idea
I have been toying with a number of ideas over the years and I make sure I write them all down. Every…. single…. one, no matter how ridiculous they seem at the time, and I don’t worry whether they are viable options or if there’s a market - I just write them all down. I go back to my list every few months and look through it to see which seem brilliant and which I now know isn't worth my effort - occasionally I will delete the latter to keep my list more focused.
I have now gotten to the stage where I can start to work on ideas and can go back to my long list and choose which idea to begin with. This is the tough part - choosing.
Aim for 5-10 ideas at this stage.
2. Select most 'loveable' ideas
Take a look through your list of ideas and start to determine which look more viable than the others. You won’t know much about market size, pricing etc just yet. So this is more of a gut feel than an exact science.
If you are planning on starting a business, you need to be able to talk about this idea for days on end, love the next 5-10 years. So is this something you would love to work on? Do you really care about solving the problem for the customer? It’s so tempting to do some financial analysis and use that to choose the most profitable idea, but trust me, this only leads to heartache later on. We will get to the monetisation of an idea later. For now, we are looking for interest and some knowledge about the topic.
Aim for 2-5 ideas at this stage.
3. Draw up a Lean Canvas for each viable idea
The Lean Canvas (developed by Ash Maurya - author of Running Lean and Scaling Lean) is an adapted form of the Business Model Canvas (developed by Alex Osterwalder). It is specifically adapted for startups.
It is a quick, simple for of a business plan. So instead of spending hours working on a business plan, spend 20 minutes on a Lean Canvas. It gets you to the most important part which is an idea of what your riskiest assumptions are. Most importantly, it forces you to think of the customers, their problems, what channels of marketing/delivery you will need to use, whether it has an enticing UVP (unique value proposition) and very high-level cost/revenue analysis.
Once you have gone through the Lean Canvas for your ideas, it should point you to 1 or 2 that stand out from the others in terms of monetisation, viability of the business model and how deeply you understand the customer's problems.
See here for Ash Maurya's guidance on documenting a Lean Canvas business model.