Even though great ideas are usually a product of a somewhat random process and multiple iterations, the initial catalyst for an idea always comes from a founder who is driven by one or many of the three following catalysts: market, technology or skills.
In this post, we will discuss these catalysts. It’s the second part of Icebreaker’s Is my idea any f#%!ing good? guide. If you want to check out the introduction to this series, read part 1 here – though you will be able to understand this post without doing so.
“I want to start a company that helps people to rent out their empty apartments to travelers.”
A vast majority of the strong tech companies have started by identifying a massive problem that should be solved. Among the VCs, founders, and academics, there is a rather clear consensus that this is the best starting point for any company. This can be a huge opportunity no one else is tapping into, or identifying a massive problem that should be solved.
Looking at our portfolio, most of the companies we have invested in have market-driven catalysts. Take for example Kodit.io, that is entering the housing market that has not been disrupted since the online marketplaces came to be almost 20 years ago.
“I have developed a new battery that is 10 times smaller and lasts 10 times longer than existing batteries. Now I want to start a company that capitalizes on that technology.”
Many strong tech companies have started through a technological breakthrough. Even though the technology would never be truly commercialized by the original company, the whole idea may have a happy ending after a large company acquires the technology in order to commercialize it.
This doesn’t mean that the technology is always invented by the founders who apply it. They might just be the ones who find the problem and can solve it in a better, faster and cheaper manner than the existing solutions.
A common example of a technology-driven founder is a researcher who wants to commercialize the results of their research. A more specific example is Varjo, a company building groundbreaking new technology for mixed and virtual reality; offering human-eye resolution for the virtual world.
“I know how to build superior games and mobile apps. Now I want to put my skills to use in the most impactful way and be my own boss.”
Skills-driven founders have often developed superior skills in a specific domain and this gives them the competitive edge for building a company. Many strong tech companies have started like this. Even if the skills would never be able to find a problem big enough or the company would fail in other ways, a larger company might end up acquiring the talent and expertise of the team.
For skills-driven founders, it is better to have one superpower and nine flaws instead of being somewhat good in ten things.
Aim for the super combo
In a perfect world, your idea has all these three catalysts:
Market-driver – a massive problem that should be solved
Tech-driver – a technological breakthrough that gives you a very concrete competitive edge
Skills-driver – the superior skills to make it happen
You don’t need to have all the pieces of the puzzle in place in the very beginning to build a strong tech company. We have invested in many ideas that only had one driver in place in the beginning and gathered the rest as they went along.
The most important thing is to understand what drivers you have in place right now, and what drivers you need to develop for the future.
You can’t make it without passion
“The best reason to start a company is if you feel and think that you cannot be not doing it.” –Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Facebook and Asana)
Before starting your tech company you should be pretty sure that you are compelled to use most of your time during the next 5–10 years exploring the idea with your co-founders. You need to be motivated and it should show: great ideas usually feel like a mission. And other people are interested in hearing about your mission – not your product.
Whether your mission is to cure cancer or automate boring tasks, you want to figure out your mission in the beginning and change it if needed. Having a bold mission is also usually the best way to get other people to help you – including investors. People tend to be more motivated when they are contributing to an important mission vs a trivial one.