Saurabh Chaturvedi


Stack Underflow

Running out of Ideas

Not long ago, I was watching some documentaries on tech luminaries like Jobs and Gates and Zuckerberg. These documentaries have a mystic encouraging element in them. Thus, in a flare of inspiration, I decided its about time I should build a startup of my own, if I wish to influence the planet like these people did (I’ve had these flares often, especially while watching such documentaries, but this time I was a little more serious, as this time I watched them alone). Soon a debate stormed in my mind, making it increasingly difficult for me to come to a conclusion. Initially, some negative thoughts came to my mind. Fearful thoughts which I think have come in all nervous founders’ minds before they begin building their startups. I was amidst suppositions like:

What service would I provide? Everything has already been invented. The startup world has reached a saturation.

For some time I feared that computer programmers would go jobless because of artificial intelligence, and because there’s already an app for anything you can think of. Some research bullied me further: There’s an Uber for everything now and there’s a startup to take your trash cans out to the curb. There were thoughts coming to my mind that the next killer app would be the one which would print “Hello, World!” on mobile screens. What else is there to develop!

Such suppositions continued to haunt me for a significant time. Earlier, I’ve often had similar intimidations about reaching a “creativity exhaustion” while trying to find an optimized algorithm and while thinking of new projects to do. To conclude, I feared that my idea stack is empty and would remain so. It wasn’t always empty, but at the same time, never significantly occupied. Also, I feared that even the handful of ideas I have aren’t simply special enough.

So, am I, or, are “we” (by “we” I mean ambitious youngsters) just not creative enough to open a startup, or just too late to come up with a new idea?

Even though some people feel they’re running out of ideas, a new startup is born every day. However, 90% of these startups fail. Building a company is really hard. Every founder says s/he works hard, but the ones who really do are the ones who endure and achieve success. These people are the remaining 10%. The success of this 10% of founder population tells us two things: people are still generating ideas, and yes, it’s never “too late” to build a startup.

Therefore, first of all, we don’t have to be intimidated. 
We can think out of the box. There are things remaining outside the box. But what does it take to come up with a billion dollar idea? Keen observation. We have to observe the world around us and seek for problems. We (desperately) need to find a problem whose solution is in (desperate) demand. A lot of successful startups address pressing problems. They solve these problems in novel ways. That’s why they’re successful.

As an example, everyone knows that the world is running out of fossil fuels. So a guy named Elon Musk comes up with Tesla (although the net revenue for Tesla rarely turns positive, the future is bright for the company). For that matter, super profitable companies of the today, like Google, didn’t make any profits during their early years. But perseverance brought them to where they are. And, by the way, focusing on profits too early can lead to trouble. Premature scaling is one of of the biggest reasons for startup failures.

There’s another class of startups which focuses on convenience. Facebook comes in this category. Social networking wasn't a pressing need before Facebook. People were alive before 2004. But now, they can’t live without it.

Furthermore, you may build upon other platforms. Innovation chases innovation. Amazon wasn't possible without the Internet. And the latter wasn't possible without electricity. Recently, I came across an accurate quote in the book “Data Structures and Algorithm Analysis”, which captures this idea:

“Why must programs be efficient when new computers are faster every year? The reason is that our ambitions grow with our capabilities.”
— Clifford A. Shaffer

As innovations bring new capabilities to us, we can use these powers to develop something that’ll push us further. This is exactly what Jeff Bezos did by coming up with Amazon. The power of the Internet brought in him new ambitions. And then he didn’t get late in engineering them. Being ambitious is one consistent trait of successful founders. So understand your capabilities. You’ll end up with more ambitions. Then realise those ambitions.

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Moreover, perspective matters, too. An outsider’s perspective (which is often the customer’s perspetive) towards a service would often reveal limitations of the service. These limitations provide fresh insights to the service provider. The provider can then work on these limitations and thus eliminate them. Also, diverse perspectives lead to new ideas. It’s very informative to read different books, go to different websites and watch different YouTube channels to gain different perspectives. It fills us with wisdom. Everyone knows Bill Gates is a book worm. Who knows that the wisdom he gained from reading different books played a part in boosting Microsoft’s success? It’s never a bad idea to gain knowledge of any genre, especially when you are an entrepreneuer.

Being social is also important. Don’t be a loner. Involve your friends in your quest. Other people know things you don’t. They’ll help in refining your plan, and would help you discover ideas if you don’t have one.

By the way, the idea isn’t the only important part of a startup. In fact, you don’t always have to have a new idea to build a successful company. Social networks existed before Facebook. But when Facebook came out, it came as a “perfected” network. We know that multiple companies provide the same service or product to us. And that’s important. It promotes competition, which leads to better services and products. Furthermore, it prevents a company to gain a monopoly over an industry.

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Just ideas aren’t sufficient. Ideas simply initiate companies. The process of realising ideas also plays a role. A very important role. We need to stick to the process after we decide our work. We need to constantly refine our product or service. “Excellent” should become the nickname of our product in the marketplace. Process is often more important than the idea. Here’s a quote which emphasizes the importance of process, from the creator of the Linux, the world’s most successful open source project:

“Successful projects are 99 percent perspiration, and one percent innovation.”
— Linus Torvalds

There’s no time to waste. If you’ve got an idea, start working on it. Stick to the process. Success will soon seek you.

P.S I’m not a startup guy (I don’t even have one)! These were simply the thoughts which come to my mind when the word “startup” pops nearby. Please correct me wherever I’m inaccurate.

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