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Team, Idea or Market? What's most important?


I was fifteen when I took my driver’s education class. I know these days everything has changed. But back then the class was managed by my high school. And the driver took four of us out (at once) and we each tried to kill us all. At least that’s how it felt.

My problem, back then, was that I totally got the “signal” part of changing lanes. I even got the “mirror” part – checking my mirror before moving over. But there was one more step – “look” which seemed to skip my attention sometimes. I’m so glad I didn’t kill us (even if we did get close a few times).

That “look” step exists for one primary reason: our blind spots.

Starting something new?

When you go to raise funding for your project, you pitch three things – your team, your big idea, and the market you’re entering. When all three work together it’s a beautiful thing.

Even if you’re not raising funds, you still have a question of focus, right? Where do you put your energy? On the team? On the idea? Or the market?

A common mistake – no market

A couple weeks ago I was sitting with a person who pitched me on their new product. They hadn’t started on it yet, but they were sure it would be awesome. After all, it was an itch that they felt. So they were first going to scratch their itch and go from there.

To them, it was the idea that was most important. Until we started talking. Because the questions I started raising suggested that their market was non-existent. They were building a product that would solve a problem that their target could (and likely would) solve on their own (before spending money on it).

Another common mistake – distracted without a team

Every day I get emails from blog readers who have a great idea, and a qualified market, but have no one to help them realize their dreams. Further, they don’t have the budget to hire staff. So they start doing consulting, to save up money to hire someone.

Only, something happens along the way. I know because every now and then I send a follow up email. That’s when I get the message that tells me their so busy consulting that they don’t have time to work on their product idea.

They’ve been distracted by the means to the point that they’ve forgotten the end.

Additionally, when you have very little budget available, you need to find people who will volunteer their skills – most often because of their own passion around the project. But that means you can’t treat them like your employee. Instead, they’re a co-creator in developing the idea – and sometimes that’s hard for idea people (who want to control the full scope of their initial idea).

And another – in search of an idea

While it doesn’t cross my path as often, every few months I meet someone (typically after an exit from a previous venture) who has funds, even a team, but just can’t get excited about a specific idea.

We all have blind spots

Here’s the reason I started by telling you about my driver’s ed experience. We like to think that one of these three items (idea, market, or team) is more critical than the other. But that’s thinking about things incorrectly. They’re three legs of a stool. Miss one of them and you don’t have a stool that you can sit on.

No, the real issue isn’t any of them. They’re all important. But here’s what’s more important to understand.

We all have blind spots. Every one of us.

Me? I love products (and have to really validate my markets to make sure they really exist). I can always get excited about building something new (even if it may not pay off).

I hear the question, “Should we build that?” as “Can you build that?” and my default answer is “YES.”

So I have to put process in place to temper my enthusiasm. Because I have blind spots. And so do you.

  1. Maybe they’re market-based.

  2. Maybe they’re team-based.

  3. Maybe they’re idea-based.

But we all have them.

It’s Signal, Mirror, Look

So my instructor first talked about SMOG (signal, mirror, over the shoulder, go!). But after a day of repeating himself over and over, he finally settled on “Signal, mirror, look.” I will remember that forever. (I should, he said it 4732 times).

I find that it’s a helpful way to think about new products, new projects, and new companies.

Signal – it’s the process of articulation to others about something you’re about to do. In the non-driving case, it’s all about talking to advisors, friends, and wise folks in your network to get their advice before you do anything. They’ll help you find your blind spots and help you deal with them.

Mirror – it’s the process of getting a different perspective on what you’re about to do. And it looks in the other direction than you’re headed. I find that more often than not, I like to get opinions from people that I like (and that have the same perspective as I do).

So my “mirror” moments are when I specifically go to someone I know who will be critical or negative. Our discussions always help me see new things and challenge me in ways that make me smarter.

Look – in the end, I still have to trust my own views, right? So the “look” step for me means taking a couple days to evaluate everything I’ve heard. It helps me pull it all in and weigh it. And then when I’m ready, I can make my own decision.

But wait…you never answered the question…

I know. You came here to get an answer and I haven’t given you one.

Well, let me first say, I think finding and dealing with your blind spots is far more important than anything else. Because your thinking is what’s most critical. It will impact all your decisions – which will have a consistently greater impact than any of the three.

But if I have to land somewhere, I’ll land on team. A strong team, working hard, can change markets, change ideas, and still find success. So whatever you do, don’t do it alone. Find some people who you connect with (on a deeper level than market or idea) and go from there.

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