The Million Dollar Idea

I've got an idea for an app, and it's worth "a million dollars": Every time someone comes up to me and says they've got an idea for an app, they owe me a buck.

Yes, I realize that makes no sense. Unfortunately, it makes about as much sense as some of the ideas that are presented to me. Don't get me wrong, there are some very good ideas out there; it's just that they can get lost in some of the "not so enlightened" things I hear.

Here's a typical scenario. (And by the way, I'm pretty sure this is fictional. I say "pretty sure," because I've heard so many ideas like this, that it may have actually happened, and I just forgot about it.)

Innovator: "Hey nerd, I heard you program phones."
Me: "Well, if you mean write apps for them, then yes. I've done development on both the iOS and Android plat..."
Innovator: (Interrupting me) "Yeah, yeah, yeah... like I said: You program phones."
Me: (Fighting every urge to try and correct this statement again.) "Um... yes."
Innovator: "I've got an idea for an app."
Me: (This oughta be good.) "Oh yeah?"
Innovator: "Yeah." (Innovator looks around to make sure no one is listening.) "It's a great idea. It's..."
Me: (Here it comes.)
Innovator: "... worth a million dollars." (Innovator looks at me somberly, as if he knows the location of a secret buried treasure.)
Me: (Trying to act surprised) "Oh, really?"
Innovator: "Oh yeah, at least."
Me: "I'm intrigued... what's the idea?"
Innovator: "Okay, but you've gotta promise to not tell anyone. And if you do this without me, I'll kill you."
Me: "Okay. Scout's honor." (I've never actually been a scout, so I think this qualifies as a loophole.)
Innovator: "Okay... here it is. Google."
Me: (Dear Lord.)
Innovator: (continuing) "But better."
Me: "Really?"
Innovator: "Damn straight"
Me: "Okay, but exactly how is it 'better'?"
Innovator: "Hey, I'm the idea guy; I leave those details to nerds like you."

At this point, I usually try to come up with some sort of BS reason why I can't work on their brilliant idea. Something like: "Well, I consult with Google, so I can't really work on something that would be 'better'." (And when I say I "consult with Google", what I really mean is that I use their search engine to find stuff on the web.) If that doesn't work, I usually carry on with some fake technical jargon until they get distracted by something like a bird or a pretty cloud. Once they're looking away, I quickly make my escape.

Like I said, this story is probably fictitious, and in the real world, I actually hear a fair number of really good ideas. (By the way, if you're reading this, and you've ever suggested an app to me, then you're idea was definitely one of the good ones. I promise. Scout's honor.)

My point is this: Ideas don't necessarily make you a million bucks. A great idea - combined with tons of hard work - is necessary to be successful. Thomas Edison said it much better: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." (What can I say... the guy was a genius.) So if you've got a great idea, you should ask yourself things like this: Am I willing to work sixty-plus hours a week on this idea? Am I willing to sacrifice my savings / kids' college funds for this? Will I do whatever it takes to be successful with this venture? If you've answered these questions with anything other than a resounding 'yes', then my guess is you're not truly committed to the idea.

I could write paragraph upon paragraph about what's required to be successful with a software company. Unfortunately, it would all be based on the observation of others, and not based upon my personal experiences. Yep, it's true - I've never started a startup, so you should take that into consideration when reading this article. (Why haven't I? Because I can't resoundingly answer 'yes' to the aforementioned questions.)

Fortunately, you don't have to read my guesswork, because Paul Graham has already written a brilliant essay on the topic. That's right, someone who has actually been successful with a startup has written about how it's done. You can read it here:

The first thing you may notice is the date - March 2005. In the internet world, that sounds like a thousand years ago. Don't let it fool you - it's still an amazing read. And when you finish that essay, if you still want to come up with something clever, check out another one of his essays, titled "How to Get Startup Ideas". ( )

So if you've read both of those articles - and you can resoundingly say "yes" to all of the questions I mentioned above - you might be ready for a startup. And if you've got an idea, and it involves a mobile app, please give me a ring. I promise to listen respectfully, and to not poke fun at you in a future article. Scout's honor.