Building Ideas

Now that you've found an idea you're passionate about and maybe have a team of people who are interested in helping you build it out, how can you actually go about creating the solution?

Execute Early

Dip your toes in the water first. This can help see what your idea is capable of and see if it gets some traction.

Create a Vision

When you start building out your idea, you might be able to envision how the project will unfold and present itself to users. Creating a story around your side project is a great way to understand why you're passionate about it as well as get others excited about it.

Don't limit yourself to what you currently can do. Envision what you'll be able to do.

Take Squarespace, the platform that allows you to create beautiful websites. Although the company started out of a dorm room with the goal of creating sites for friends, Anthony Casalena quickly brought in $1.5 million a year from it. Why? Because he was achieveing something different according to his vision for the platform.

“None of the products out there took style or design into account — which doesn’t work when you’re trying to build your personal identity online. We’re not just working to solve the problem of making websites. We’re working to solve the problem of self expression.” –Anthony Casalena, Founder of Squarespace

On the flip side, if you can't truly envision what you think you can accomplish with your project, that's totally okay too. Sometimes, it takes just starting to get a better idea of what might be possible.

Start small

Say you're trying to build a community of artists and your vision is a global conference bringing in 100K+ artists in a beautiful space. First, think about the first key result you can achieve with your goal. You can start by creating a Facebook group, a Slack channel, or an email newsletter that spurs conversation on topics involving the art community and bring people in with small steps initially.

There are countless ideas that started off way smaller than envisioned. Take DoorDash, Glossier, and Slack. At Stanford, Tony Xu called the first DoorDash site "PaloAltoDelivery.com" because it was the simplest URL to guess and the product was 8 PDF menus and a Google Voice number. Emily Weiss started Glossier out of a beauty and lifestyle blog called IntoTheGloss. As for Slack, Steward Butterfield initially created the workplace software as a game.

Think early on what the main tasks are for you to get started. Some helpful questions could be:

  • What are the first 3 things that come to mind when building an early version of this idea?

  • How much help do I need to get those 3 things started?

  • How time time do I have to get those 3 things started?

  • What resources do I have to leverage right now?

  • What are some people that should be aware of these 3 things?

“I wrote out, ‘Here are all the things we need to launch: Website. Chemist. Office space.’ And then I just checked them off, one by one." – Emily Weiss, CEO of Glossier

"People always ask, 'well how did you do it? How do you build a company?' And I have the most boring answer in the world — a list. We literally had a document where every day we would just have a list of a few of the things that needed to get done. We’d cross off the list so we'd know what the other person is doing and we’d just keep going from there." – Carly Leahy, CCO of Modern Fertility

Don't fixate on perfection

When you have an idea of what you want to do and you've started to incrementally make your way towards an initial solution, don't get bogged down on creating the perfect version of what you want to accomplish. When I (Maya) started Let's Hear It, I wanted to create the initial version of what I had in mind: a site someone could bookmark to check out the latest leading women. To do this, I created a Webflow site with tons of photos, quotes, and links for people to view to featured women in various industries. At this point, I was certainly thinking about what I could envision this platform growing into, but I had a sharp focus on only delivering the initial step of what my platform could be.

Better to build an extremely stripped down version of your solution and start seeing if users actually want to use it. Airbnb’s first version had almost no features (no map view, no profiles, no messaging, no payments, etc) and they referred to it as “Airbnb Lite” and built it in under a month. - Michael Seibl

Test the waters

Whether you're planning on writing a book, organizing a campaign/event, or building a product, it's always important to execute early so you can test how you and others feel about the initial solution. This can tell you a lot about what you might want to focus on or improve on throughout the building process.

Don't worry so much if you get a lot of negative feedback. Focus on the pieces of advice that resonate most with what you're doing and improve for next time.

Here are some ways in which different projects can test an early solution before diving deeper:

  • Writing a book: publish an article in a publication or self-publish on Medium to see how people react to a certain topic or personal commentary.

  • Building an app: design a proof of concept or early prototype to see how users go through initial flows, how they might feel about particular interactions, and any patterns they see that they might have feedback on.

  • Building an online platform: start with a simple HTML site on what the landing page could look like. If you don't know web dev, take this opportunity to learn or use an existing website builder like Webflow, Squarespace, and Wix.

Execute Often

Have Plans A, B, C.

With a grand vision you set forth in the initial phases of your project, most often than not, a lot of the things you planned out will change over time. In order to keep the momentum of your project, you should set out plans to take into account the many things that could go both right and wrong.

If you've already tested your idea in its initial phases and you're feeling confident about planning out the next steps, here's an example approach:

This is not a one-size fits all approach. Use it as a high-level framework to start thinking about ensuring you are being flexible when building out your project.

Using your vision as a reference, set out the key results you'd want to achieve to build out your project.

Plan A: Your Vision

  • How do you see people using your project? How do you think it will make people feel?

  • What does the journey look for your project? Think of the process for people from discovering your project to providing feedback after interacting with it.

  • What is your brand identity? If you left the room and someone were to pitch your project for you, how would they do it?

  • How will people find out about your project? What types of campaigns and events could you hold?

  • Who's doing what? How much of a priority is it to recruit a team of people early on?

Plan B: Your Vision + Adjustments

  • If people misinterpret what you're trying to do, how can you market your mission in a more understandable way?

  • What is blocking your progress? How can you minimize the amount of work needed to achieve your objectives?

Plan C: Alternative Vision

  • If you lose interest throughout the process, what's an alternative mission you could strive for using the foundation you built already?

  • How has the feedback you gotten either validated the success or refactoring of your project's objectives?

  • How have your priorities changed?

Feedback and Iteration

Launch fast and iterate. It's a big mistake to treat a startup as if it were merely a matter of implementing some brilliant initial idea. As in an essay, most of the ideas appear in the implementing. – Paul Graham, Y-Combinator

As you're building out your project, we always encourage using the design thinking process as a point of reference in framing how you approach feedback and iteration. This process allows you to take a lean and nimble approach is always iterating upon your ideas, which basically means improving the process and objectives of your project after receiving feedback and achieving milestones.

Avoid opportunity overload

Throughout the process of building out an idea, you'll often see how new opportunities appear on every corner. Whether it's a friend pitching you a feature to implement or a new chapter to write in your book, feedback is great, but caution yourself in focusing on your goals as you are taking in feedback. Cognitive overload is one thing, but opportunity overload is another. With more opportunities, comes more distraction. Make sure that with every opportunity that comes around, think long and hard about the value it serves for the success of your project.

One way to think about evaluating opportunities is thinking about the following:

  • Learning: will this opportunity allow me to learn new things that will help my project grow? Will it allow me to gain new skills or strengthen my knowledge?

  • Growth: how will this opportunity allow you to expand your project and make further progress? How will it lead to more opportunities for your project's growth?

  • Short-term: how beneficial is this opportunity to your project in the short term? What are the main drawbacks of not claiming this opportunity now?

    • If it makes sense to you, rate it on a scale from 1-10 in terms of short-term benefits.

  • Long-term: how will this opportunity benefit your long-term vision? Does it make sense to pursue this opportunity now or in the future?

    • If it makes sense to you, rate it on a scale from 1-10 in terms of long-term benefits.

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