Finding a profitable business idea is the first step to start any business, and yet, for many, it’s also the most trying. The GrowthLab team and I have seen thousands of entrepreneurs tussle with finding their “One True Idea.” Most of the time it results in heartbreak. But it’s not always the idea itself that is the heartbreaker.
It’s that people refuse to let go of a “bad” idea, and they let it steer them headlong into idea purgatory, where ideas and dreams fade into obsolescence. Where there’s no success or sudden failure. Where movement is always just around the next corner. And for better or worse, they stick with it, and bafflingly, sometimes convince themselves it’s a customer problem, not an idea problem.
Or (whispers) an entrepreneur problem.
To be clear, a “bad” idea isn’t necessarily because it’s stupid or that no one cares. It could be that it just doesn’t strike a big enough chord with people to turn into a profitable business (you still need to pay the bills, yo!); or, as Clarissa Grace, an online personal stylist, explained in her article on idea validation, it’s not something that you actually want to pursue.
Whatever the case, I’m not here to judge your ideas.
What I am here to do is mete out advice that no one else, especially yourself, will have the heart to tell you:
If you’ve spent months talking to customers only to get tepid reactions, your idea is not “it.” It’s time to let it freakin’ go.
I can already hear you angrily pounding your keyboard and preparing a long spiel in defiance with excuses like:
- “Maybe I just need to spend MORE time talking to MORE people.”
- “Maybe I’m just not selling my idea correctly. If I told it right, people would think differently…”
- “Maybe I’m just not talking to the right people.”
- “Maybe if people were just more honest with me and told me what they really thought about my idea…”
Come at me, bro.
No long-winded explanation can change the fact that THIS is the number one thing most people starting out in their business get hung up on: They’re convinced that they have to make the first ideas they have WORK. They point to other successful-looking entrepreneurs who seem to have just woken up one day with a brand spankin’ new idea, ran with it, and instantly heard the sweet sound of cha-ching.
The truth is, you may tell yourself anything to NOT let go of an idea because to do so is to admit that you are wrong.
Your brain kicking and screaming at the prospect of being wrong is you just trying to protect your ego, the real ringmaster behind this carnival of erratic emotions.
The unshakable feeling that you must be perfectly amazing at everything you do is what you’ve been led to believe to be the bedrock of success — at least in Western cultures. And so you live in quiet fear of making the slightest mistake, including having a “bad” idea, lest you are anything but awesome.
I know because I’ve been there.
I spent close to a year on a single idea, convinced that it was amazing and bulletproof. When I found out it wouldn’t make me the money I wanted, I felt dejected but was too prideful to shutter it and move on. So many of my hopes and dreams were wrapped up in this idea. But deep down, I realized that I wanted success to just “happen” with that one idea in order to shield my ego from the realities and tribulations of business.
I just couldn’t bear the thought of looking silly to friends and family and admitting that my idea to build a real, viable business from the comfort of my home WAS a little crazy, after all. Not after those passive-aggressive comments they’d make like, “Oh, you have a lot of free time today right?” Or the most gut-wrenching question of them all: “When are you going to get a real job?”
They made me crave success even more, twisting what was initially a career-fulfilling ambition into a shallow temper tantrum just to show them all up. THEY’LL SEE.
So to walk away from what seemed like a promising idea felt as if I would be giving up on my dream business and on myself. And give others an opportunity to sneer, “Told you so.”
For too long, my ego wouldn’t and couldn’t let that happen. And I was stuck, holding fiercely onto this pride for no reason other than to … I don’t even know what.
It was years later when I realized that to grow in life and business is to recognize that I do have the power to effect change and improve or pivot. But to do so is to first embrace the fact that I am capable of making mistakes and — dare I say — being wrong. That my ideas aren’t always going to be awesome AF.
Because when you put your ego on timeout, you are less concerned with looking silly by letting go of an idea or three.
You’re more concerned with seeing an idea for what it is — maybe a “bad” one that keeps you in a holding pattern — and instead focusing on getting better and getting real results.
When I finally smashed down my ego and let go of my initial ideas, I moved on to another thing I knew I was good at (writing and getting articles published) and kept refining this idea until one day, three years after I first said I’d wanted to build a business, I finally launched a beta product that netted me $5,000 without an email list.
It didn’t happen quickly or with one idea. Or even a half dozen ideas. It happened gradually and after much heartache, but only because I was willing to let my old ideas go and let them evolve organically.
The truth is: You’ll likely have to go through many ideas, and that’s part of the journey. But it’d be hard to go through the process when it kills you to admit that not everything you come up with is going to be truly awesome.
You just have to … let it — your idea and your ego — go, if needed.
And now I leave you with this apt fortune that I got from a Panda Express cookie: