I’ve heard quite a few people tell me that they have the ‘greatest idea ever’ for a product or a startup. Even at last night’s SproutUp Toronto meetup, people came up to Kurt, Mark and me (3/4 of the Lesson Sensei team) with nothing but an idea.
The ironic thing is that former Digg Creative Director and Milk co-founder Daniel Burka at February SproutUp Toronto said that “ideas are cheap. Building is hard.“ I agree with him. Ideas are a dime in a dozen. Everyone has ideas. I have 4 to 5 possible startup ideas in my head right now. If you’re reading this, chances are that you have an idea yourself. But, what sets people apart from the crowd are those that actually pursue to build their ideas!
Gather a team of builders
So you have a great idea. How do you go about building it? Daniel suggest you build it yourself or find friends who can build it. But, Burka doesn’t just suggest you pick some random friends. You want to gather ‘builders.’ People who are willing to get their hands dirty and sweat from the hard work.
But, what if you’re not technical, how do you find technical co-founders? Burka said that if you don’t know how to build an app or don’t have any friends who can build it with you, then you’re doing it wrong. Quit running around trying to raise VC cash so you can hire that dream product development team. Go hang out with product builders until you’re friends with them and you’ve learned some technical skills as well. You can’t ‘network’ to find technical people – you have to go out and make real honest-to-goodness friends.
That’s the pattern I’m seeing. Most co-founders are friends first before they work together. As I previously mentioned, finding co-founders is like finding a wife or husband; it shouldn’t be a trivial decision. You have to find friends who are builders. This is exactly what Burka did. Burka started his first startup at eleventh grade with a few friends in the attic of his parents’ century-old farmhouse at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island..
I’ve been fortunate enough to know Edmund, Mark and Kurt. I’ve worked with all of them in several church events. So I know their work ethics. I also know that they are builders. Together, we have the skills, passion and motivation to build Lesson Sensei.
Focus on building
Another thing that I got from Burka’s talk last night is that the role of everyone in a startup is to focus on building. It’s so easy for early-stage startups to start handing out ‘C’ titles like Chief Executive Officer, Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Technology Officer. You don’t even have a product yet! Everyone’s task should be focused on building, whether it’s interviewing potential customers, coding the actual product, gathering customer feedback or creating a launch page to gather potential beta testers.
There is absolutely no excuse for not focusing on building. With such a small team and (in my case) everyone being busy with full-time work or school, every wasted energy and time are costly. With Edmund, Kurt and Mark, there have been times when we wasted a whole day arguing about what we should do. Looking back, I realized we wasted our time and energy. What Burka recommended is to talk for 30 minutes, then try it out and build it for the next 30 minutes. Keep what works. Remove what doesn’t. It’s almost like trial-and-error experiments. You push the boundaries by trying to see if the impossible is possible.
All too often, an idea or concept is quashed by other team members even before it’s been explored. That’s a wrong mentality. Burka says that you don’t know what works or what doesn’t work until you try it out and get feedback from the team or customers.
Ideas are a dime in a dozen. Don’t sit on your ideas. Start building it. There are products out there that can help you start building it without technical knowledge such as Prototypes App or Mockingbird. But the best way to build a product is not to hire a development team, but to gather a team of builders. Go out and make real honest-to-goodness friends.