The Idea Stage is Broken and a Tool to Fix It

Almost a majority of the time, when I pass on an investment opportunity, there's something wrong with the company that can be traced back to the moment the entrepreneur came up with the idea.  I find myself thinking, "You should really be doing something else."

People are excited about the idea of starting a company, but don't spend nearly enough time vetting what to work on.  Frankly, I'm sceptical that the "picking an idea" thing has any decent likelihood of working out, versus having an idea pick you.

What's your answer to "Did you pick this idea or did this idea pick you?"

If you're having trouble sussing out an idea at the very earliest of stages, or you feel like you have something to offer, but you're not sure what to work on, try this exercise on for size.

It will help you figure out why you're doing something, what you bring to the table to an unknown thing, and how to start thinking about pacing your progress.



I want to… (choose one)

create something, improve something

I have an… (choose any that apply)

interest, observation, opportunity, idea, question, asset, skill, goal, company, product, problem

Why now? (rank these)

Personal time limitation
Money constraint/opportunity
Career window
Market timing



Currently, I am [working full time/working part time/exploring/practicing/researching/improving] [name of the field or job].

I have been doing this for [x] [days/months/years].

I currently spend [x] hours per week doing this.

This is a time-sensitive endeavor (y or n)
If y, there is a time period that this needs to be executed within

I am working on this [alone/with others].  

I [do/do not] make money doing this.

I [do/do not] make enough money doing this to sustain my lifestyle.

I [would/would not] like to work on this full time.

I am sure that this is something I should be pursuing (agree/disagree)

I have a clear sense of the things I need to do to succeed or improve.   (agree/disagree)

I know where my focus should be and what my priorities are. (agree/disagree)  

Does your current financial situation have any effect on how much time you can dedicate to this effort?


Choose one or more of the following directions...


A series of prior events have led up to this moment.
(Please describe.)


I can see a future that is different than now and I want to help make that happen.
(Please describe.)


I feel like I am meant to do this thing or that I am the best person to do this.  
(Please describe.)


I have observed an opportunity or problem out there in the world.  
(Please describe.)



What scares you about this endeavor?

What are your limited resources?

What gets in your way?


What inspires you?

Why are you doing this?

What is success for you?


I admire…

[Company X] for their mission [which is…]

[Company X] for their product [which is…]

[Company X] for their business model [which is…]

[Person X] for their lifestyle [which is…]

[Person X] for their [Quality Y] 



I don’t admire…

how [Company X] does [Y activity] 

the culture of [Company X]

the lack of mission of [Company X]

[Company X] for their product [because]

[Company X] for their business model [because]

[Person X] for their lifestyle [which is…]

[Person X] for their [Quality Y] 




What resources, connections, or insights do you imagine you can get from others that you do not have?  

What is the profile of person who you believe would be able to provide this?  Where would they have worked?  What experiences would they have had?



I am able to accomplish this by myself? (y or n)
If no, what traits/skillsets in team members can I identify to accomplish this goal?
-pieces of information
-specific skillsets
-personality traits

What kind of resources do I need? 


Will there be metrics for improvement / growth?
If not, How do you know whether or not you have improved?



What can you get accomplished…

today, this week, in two weeks, this month, this quarter, in six months, this year