If you’re anything like me you have a lot of ideas. So much so that it can be hard to figure out what to execute on next. That’s when you need an idea meat grinder.
You use an idea meat grinder to find good ideas by filtering out all your bad ones. Take every idea and ask yourself some predefined questions about the concept. If the idea fails one question it’s filtered out and you should move on to the next one. The end resolute should be a nice pile of ideas to start executing on.
In another post on my blog I talked about the meat grinder approach for startup ideas. In that post, I covered how I heard of the concept but didn’t go into details of my own personal use. So today I’ll share some details about my own idea meat grinder. Having another example could help you build your own blueprints for an idea meat grinder.
The end goal is important
I’m not looking for moon shots here. The ideas I’m sifting for won’t land me on the cover of any business magazine. I’m planning on using these questions to help start personal software side projects. Right now I’m trying to stair step my way to bigger goals.
Rob Walling goes into detail about stair stepping in episode 222 of the podcast Startups For The Rest Of Us. He wants you to imagine business offerings as a set of stairs. “Each step gets a little more challenging but you step up once you have more experience. The problem that we see is, folks are coming in and they’re seeing what successful people are doing. They say, ‘well, they’re doing SaaS apps so I’m going to do a SaaS app.’ I don’t always think that’s the right choice. SaaS apps have very long, slow, SaaS ramp of death to revenue. It is very complicated to build them and it’s hard to market them.”
It’s like starting small. I’m attempting to patiently build towards my long-term goals.
Another reason for the meat grinder is to avoid the mistakes I had with Samson. Samson was a software application that I started to help Barbers schedule appointments. Things didn’t work out like I had hoped.
Tyler Tringas, the founder of Storemapper explains it well. “The secret to coming up with a successful business idea is putting hundreds of ideas through the meat grinder.” This can help you find ideas for a side business ideas or a silicon valley unicorn. It all depends on the questions used. If you’re motivated or creative you’ll likely come up with a lot of potential ideas. Figuring out which ideas won’t work and moving on should be the goal. More about that here.
But my idea meat grinder blueprint won’t be for a generalized model. That wouldn’t be very valuable. Like in your career niche your idea meat grinder blueprint can add value. John Sonmez has a whole playlist about specialization and niching for programmers. A lot of those concepts hold up in this case as well.
This meat grinder will take ideas and spit out MVP’s and hackathon sized software projects.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help verify potential new side project ideas.
Can you make this?
This means you alone by yourself. For example I would ask, “Can I (Saeed) make this on my own”. Or failing that I would ask could I bring in one friend. Not a team one good friend.
That friend needs to have some other skills and be willing to help out of guilt and the promises of free food. Aim for something you could make over the course of a weekend at best. Plan for one month at the worst.
This questions from Tyler Tringas. He wrote, “If you can figure out a way to build a crappy version of your “app” without actually coding, you can get past this first hurdle. If it involves facial image recognition algorithms and you can’t even write HTML… Next!”
I would agree but also add that how much you can learn by doing can be surprising. And for most side projects learning could be the biggest benefit.
You might also want to think about turning your weakness into a strength. I’m not great at design. Though I do appreciate it, my skill level hasn’t caught up with my taste. So building a well designed mobile application would be more difficult for me. But by building a chat bot, I’m able to avoid design all together.
This is a great time to get creative, to make your first crappy version. Remember you can improve things overtime. Reid Hoffman the founder of LinkedIn has said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
Don’t think you can build a crappy first version? Move on.
Would you be a power user of this product?
Being a power user of your product makes it easier to iterate and improve your project.
There a term used a lot in Silicon Valley called dogfooding which is also related to this concept. “Eating your own dogfood,” or “dogfooding,” means using the products that you make. Microsoft executive Paul Maritz was desperate for customers to try a new product. When he came up with the concept in 1988. He e-mailed everyone in the company, “We are going to have to eat our own dogfood and test the product ourselves.” The team created an internal server called “\\dogfood” and sent it out to staff.
If you wouldn’t want to use the side product you’re working on? It doesn’t make the cut.
Does it scratch your own itch?
By scratching your own itch you have full understanding the issue. This makes it more likely that you’ll actually solve the problem. If it works for you then it should work for others. Scratching your own itch can also give insights how to spread your idea. You have to find more people who are like you.
As Seth Rogen would but it, “we make the movies we want to go see. The only people we know we can make movies for is ourselves. So when we sit down to write a movie like ‘Pineapple Express’ we thought what movie do we want to see.” Software ideas should go through the same filter.
“It’s critical as an entrepreneur to scratch your own itch. It increases the odds of success. As an investor I look for people who are scratching their own itch.” – Tim Ferriss via Shopify Interview
If you’re not scratching your own itch save this idea for later.
If it works, will it be sustainable?
This question is to weed out something that you’re going to hate even though it’s a wild success. Start thinking about the end game. There isn’t a way to predict if something will go viral. And for my side projects that isn’t the goal. So I’m not talking about that type of sustainability.
For me I use side projects as a way to learn new skills. But small side projects can still have problems with scale. For example, would serve cost be a problem? Would you hit some API limitations? Are you able to handle the number of incoming request.
If a lot of people interacting with your side project would be a bad thing, it’s time to move on.
Is it a “Hell Yeah”?
This idea is straight from Derek Sivers book Anything You Want. Sivers suggest that you “use this rule if you’re often over-committed or too scattered”. No ‘yes.’ Either ‘HELL YEAH!’ or ‘no’., is a great question to add to your idea meat grinder.
If you’ve got a lot going on there’s no point in adding another project that you’re not into from the beginning. Doing so is setting yourself up for eventual burnout and failure. If you’re not excited about the potential of this side project don’t waste your time.
“We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.” – Derek Sivers
Could ‘failing’ still be a win?
This lowering your downside before you even start. A good example of this is the podcast I started called the Stream Team Show. Even if the podcast isn’t a “success” there’s still benefit to doing it. I’ll learn a lot about producing and editing a podcast. I’ll learn about promoting a show. I’ll become a better speaker and storyteller. All these skills that can be for other projects even if the podcast fails.
You want to create as many win wins as you can. Not for others but also for yourself. This is setting yourself up for success no matter what the outcomes are. Drop the idea if you can’t think of a way that failing would still be helpful.
Are you embarrassed to be on stage talking about this project?
This should stops you from doing something that doesn’t fit with your morals or internal compose.
“How you make your money is more important how much you make.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
If you can build up the nerve to tell your friends, partner or mom what you’re up to then it’s not for you. Move on to the next idea.
Would you want to read 500 books related to this idea?
This fills in a more tactical version of the question are you passionate about this.
The concept of reading 500 books on a subject is something I first hear from James Altucher. He brings this up when talking about the process of reinventing yourself. “Find a topic you would be willing to read 500 books on. If you can’t wait to read all 500 books in the knitting section then you probably have a talent at knitting.” — James Altucher
To me 500 books is a metaphor for a lot of content. 500 books could be, 100 documentaries, 1,000 podcast, or 10,000 blog post.
In another article Altucher goes on to say, “go to the bookstore and find it. If you get bored three months later go back to the bookstore.”
If you can’t or don’t want to read 500 books on the subject you’ve failed this question. Give up.
Time to build your own
Whenever you want to filter through many idea it’s good to have an idea meat grinder. First you might need to build your own. You could even take this one, I don’t mind.
There’s a lot more question that I could add, but this is a good start. Yet this blueprint is not set in stone. Overtime it’s important to tweak things. As your skills improve our your situation changes you’ll be able to take on different ideas.
If you’re overwhelmed with ideas get in the habit of discarding five ideas per day for a week. Something will come out the other side, that you can’t find the heart to kill. Chances are that’s something worth your time. At that point build and launch fast. If it flops you can use it as feedback to improve your questions.
Got an idea and want me to put it through the meat grinder?
Let me know in the comments or Tweet it at me.