It always begins with an idea. This was not the first idea I ever had and three years on I can tell you it was definitely not the last. Growing up I always had the impression, from whom I’m not sure, that ideas were exceedingly valuable and that to create a startup you needed to have a really great idea. It has taken me many years to truly appreciate that great, in the context of startup ideas, has a very specific, and somewhat unconventional meaning.
But I digress. SimplyShow.me was born at approximately 2am one March morning in 2011 while I was driving from Canberra to Sydney. A day earlier I had chosen to forego an overseas job to move back home to support family who were dealing with some serious health issues. Determined that such a backward move, in a geographic sense, was not going to be a backward move otherwise, I determined that I was going to run a startup. SimplyShow.me would be my startup.
The original idea, captured in a document (SimplyShow.me Overview) that I authored a few days later, was seemingly inspired by work I had been doing for a university, who were keen to understand better ways to author, catalogue, and disseminate small, reusable content bundles. SimplyShow.me looked to extend that concept beyond the academic world, to allow people the world over to create and share their knowledge and expertise in an easily accessible content marketplace.
The main innovation, as I saw it at the time, was the ability to author video-based content directly on a mobile device. Rather than only using mobile devices to consume content people could create compelling content by taking advantage of the high quality cameras, and ever present nature of mobile devices. They could monetise their skills and expertise by sharing this content with others using the SimplyShow.me platform.
Years on from that initial idea the product and business model of SImplyShow.me had changed many times over. Through all those changes however the concept of creating and sharing expertise and experience using video based micro-content captured on smartphones remained the core of SimplyShow.me, an idea that I still think has merit, even with the demise of the company.
So with the first part of the SimplyShow.me story told I would like to return to my earlier digression about ideas, and what makes ideas great. Firstly, I would like to dispel the myth that ideas are inherently valuable. The story of a startup would never begin without an idea but ideas, in and of themselves, are inherently worthless. The company that emerges from an idea is valuable, the products and services that are created from an idea are valuable, and an idea, that manifests through the toil of its founders, has the potential to impact the world in untold ways.
From this perspective no idea is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than any other idea. The quality of an idea is only determined by our ability to execute on that idea to make it something of substance that can grow to deliver value to others.
Reflecting on this, was SimplyShow.me a great idea? Definitely not. While I had some exposure to micro-content and some programming experience I had no real domain expertise, I was not a software developer, had never been involved in designing or building an App, or a web platform, and I didn’t really know who I was solving a problem for.
I got carried away chasing an idea that I thought was ‘cool’, without contemplating how well positioned I was to actually execute on the idea. From my experience I would always encourage entrepreneurs to try and understand the fit between themselves and their idea by answering a few simple questions:
- Do you have domain expertise or experience in the area you are looking at? (If not, how are you going to get it?)
- What gives you confidence that you are solving a clearly identifiable problem for someone? Who is that someone? (If you don’t know this, what makes you think this problem needs solving and how are you going to validate your assumptions about this problem?)
- Do you, or someone in your team, have the skills to implement the solution you have proposed? (If not, how are you going to get it implemented?)
Faced with these questions my honest 2011 self would have probably answered:
- No. Not sure.
- Not sure. Not sure. No Idea.
- No. Not sure.
My takeaway from this is that great ideas are those where you have domain expertise, can solve a problem you know and understand and where you possess the skills to solve the problem at hand. While none of these led to the immediate demise of SimplyShow.me, it was only once these deficiencies were rectified that SimplyShow.me was able to progress but that is definitely a story for another time.