I'm starting a new business called Kynetx. As I go through some of the things I do, I'm planning to blog them. The whole series will be here. This is the eleventh installment. You may find my efforts instructive. Or you may know a better way--if so, please let me know!
When you talk to someone who's starting a business, ask them what they do--you can tell how far along they are by the answer you get. Every business has a story and it takes time to get that story straight. If they stumble around, say "it's hard to explain," or something like that, you're talking to someone with a brand new idea. This doesn't mean it's not a great idea--it just means that the story hasn't developed yet. I imagine that if you'd talked to Tim Berners--Lee in the first few weeks after he initially thought up the Web, you'd have walked away totally confused.
You may be at that stage. You might feel like you can't explain your idea easily. This isn't just because you can't explain it. It's also a sign that your idea is still developing. There are a few things you can do to get your ideas down and get your story straight.
The most important thing you can do is to keep talking. Talk about what you're doing with everyone you can. The more you explain your idea, the better chance you have of discovering good ways to describe it to others. You'll find a lot of people just nod and say "Wow! That sounds great." Valuable because you got some practice, but the most important conversations you'll have will be with people who challenge your idea and ask questions.
If someone challenges your idea and you feel completely discouraged and ready to give up, question your ability to pull this off. Being successful at a startup requires a good blend of passion combined with enough humility to take advice and good suggestions. You have to be able to take the hits, learn from them, change where necessary and prudent and yet keep the excitement about what you're doing. The most important and valuable conversations I've had are those where someone told me something I didn't want to hear.
I've been working on the idea behind Kynetx for almost a year. In that time, I've had meetings with dozens of people from VC's to friends who I trust. While the core of what Kynetx is hasn't changed, the way we talk about it, the ideas we have for where it can be used, and the way we have thought about funding it have changed dramatically. It's amazing to me how much our thinking has changed over that time. Just last week we had an epiphany on how we explain Kynetx to others that has us all very excited.
You might find it a little discouraging to think that you're going to be a year into something and still discovering new ways to think about it. Actually, I find that to be a lot of fun. The best part, for me, is the discovery.
Let me emphasize again, that the core idea is still largely the same. We've got over 10,000 lines of code at this point--I'd be pretty bummed if we were going to have to throw out our code every time we had a new idea. Once you start cutting code, you're committing yourself in important ways. On the other hand, putting that stake in the ground is also a great way to generate new ideas as well. Since I started writing code in October our progress has accelerated in amazing ways--and the way we thinking about what that code does has changed and become clearer.
I'm lucky in knowing a lot of people in the high-tech industry who graciously agree to talk to me and give me their advice. The secret is that many people like hearing about ideas and giving advice. Don't ask any of these folks to sign an NDA. It's a waste of time and paper and just puts people off. Be respectful of their time and don't be a pest.
Knowing your story will help a lot as you design products, raise money, and explain to your friends and neighbors what you're so passionate about.