Idea Sharing February 2010

In 1998, Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google out of their garage. By 2004, it had already reached an estimated net worth of $23 billion. At the same time that Google was estimated at $23 billion, Harvard students Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes were busy launching Facebook, and within two weeks of the launch, many Boston schools were already using the site. Today, both Google and Facebook are known as some of the fastest growing companies and have net worths in the billions. Both businesses were started by average people with an idea – not the CEO of some existing company or rocket scientists.

In addition to Facebook, Google, and the lesser-known but still useful websites, all businesses must begin their entrepreneurial journey somewhere. This “somewhere”, in all cases, is a place deep inside the skull where a few rebellious but ingenious synapses fire to form an idea. Not all ideas are created equally however. Some ideas prove to be failures, others become instant successes, and yet others are insanely innovative ideas that never come together because their creators don’t recognize their beauty. These neglected ideas never reach their potential and their thinkers never reach the success that they deserve. Why?

Most of us entrepreneur-minded folk formulate ideas constantly. We often don’t even have time to write down our ideas because they come up in the middle of work, movies, books, or conversations. These inconvenient situations cause us to say “I’ll try to remember it and think about it later.” Usually by the time we sit down and try to remember the idea, the light bulb in our minds is burnt out and our inspiration is lost. The ideas are still just as good as they were when the thoughts that led to them were at hand, but we rarely recognize this though the lost inspiration.

With that said, there is a deep, itching need for a website or physical business that allows people to share ideas and critique them. A website of this sort would be best formatted like an online bulletin board, so that people could post a new idea and other entrepreneurs could reply with their own thoughts. Moderators could keep spam and insanity out of the picture. By allowing users to comment on each other’s ideas, they will not only receive criticism from other entrepreneurs, but they will get feedback from average, everyday people from all sorts of backgrounds and trades. They will find it far more useful to receive these ideas at the idea-formulating phase of entrepreneurship than once they have already begun the venture and started investing time and money.

The home page would have lists of the most popularly failed ideas and the most successful ideas, along with variations of such ideas, and the most recent ideas. Users would be able to vote for ideas and rate them. Ideas would exist as threads that are continuously being revised, updated, and reviewed. Comments would accumulate with accounts of first-hand experiences, giving users a wealth of examples and knowledge. This website would serve as a the first place an entrepreneur would go to further investigate his or her ideas.

In addition to average people with ideas, “Professional Reviewers” could eventually be added to analyze ideas for a reasonable cost and give feedback as to whether the ideas are viable or not. Such reviews would include financial information from the perspective of an accountant, legal advise from lawyers, and structural or mechanical advise from engineers if need be. The company quickly begins to resemble a business consulting firm of sorts – and perhaps it would become one. The unique quality of this website is that the business could serve individuals that are not sure if they even want to pursue their business seriously or not. This is no website for someone who knows what they want and knows it will work – it is a website for the person who continuously asks himself, “is this a good idea or not?”

Hopefully this service would also prevent people from wasting time on ideas for which there is simply no demand or that are not even close to economically feasible. My professor in Entrepreneurship Initiative once gave the class the example of a beer delivery service. She receives more business plans for such a company than any other type of business, yet not a single person has ever come up with a profitable scheme. There are always the problems of legal issues and the fact that people tend to be cheap about buying beer – especially near a university campus which the prime location for such a business – but perhaps such a website would allow would-be business failures to become aware of the obstacles they are about to encounter and overcome them as a group. Just as computer programmers and web developers have “code review” sessions where they sit around and review each other’s code, and just as writers and editors often have their own review sessions, entrepreneurs need a club to hang out in and review ideas. This website is that club.

The one and only major criticism to this website waiting to happen is that these business philosophers would be reluctant to share ideas in fear of the ideas being stolen and their credit lost. But this is an irrational fear. The first rule design students at any reputable university are often taught is to share their ideas with each other, and not to fear their idea being stolen. Any idea worth creating has likely already been thought of in some form, and most people do not steal ideas – the average entrepreneur has his own ambitions and interests, and will not have the disrespect to take another person’s idea. It is evident that the wisdom to be gained by the free exchange of ideas has already been demonstrated with democracy and open source software. So yes – people are hesitant to reveal their plans. This will make this website challenging, but not impossible. The key to solving this problem is maintain an open, positive, and respectful attitude within the forum. If a web developer can overcome entrepreneurs’ fears, there is no question that this website would become an instant success.

With so many failed businesses and ideas for new innovations floating around in the modern world, there is no reason for a young entrepreneur to fail at a plan that has already been failed at for the same reasons it has failed before. But just as there is no reason to repeat others’ mistakes when their failures have been so well documented, there is no reason to miss an opportunity for a spectacular idea because they didn’t recognize its potential.