14 Dec A simple criteria to help identify new business ideas
There’s no playbook for coming up with business ideas. You could identify your own pain points to see first-hand what products could be improved. You could spot an injustice in the world and commit to its eradication. You could back into seams of opportunity using Amazon data. Or, you could start by exchanging your time for money as a consultant. These approaches just scratch the surface. And despite our collective fascination with the Musks and Zuckerberg’s of the world, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to entrepreneurship.
How much emphasis should entrepreneurs put on profitability and outsized returns?. After all, if you’re not financially sustainable, what’s the point – to wither on the vine? But can this outcome-oriented approach rob you of the everyday joy entrepreneurship? Companies are created over the span of minutes, days, months and years. We accept that starting a business will require sacrifices; but can we also double-down on the joy that comes from creating something you’re proud of and want to see in the world?
Go big or go home
I left finance thinking that I needed to be a venture-backed entrepreneur. It was the path that was known to the world: high profile, ambitious, and with the potential to make a lot of money. Yet there were two issues. First, I didn’t have “an idea.” But that didn’t seem insurmountable. Second, I had what Andrew Taggart calls “a pebble in my shoe.” I knew that something felt off with that path, but may lacked the self-awareness to do something different. Starting a venture-backed company was inconsistent with how we wanted to live our life as a family: we valued freedom, autonomy, and creative expression. And tbh, I know a lot of venture-backed founders and it’s a demanding existence. I didn’t want that lifestyle. I didn’t want to work that much.
Starting a business doesn’t have to suck
After a brief flirtation with starting a seed stage venture fund (I know, ?) I found myself at a crossroads. I had set aside some runway to figure things out, but still had no business ideas. Out of desperation, I issued myself a challenge: “For the next twelve months, I’m only going to work on things that bring me joy.”
Now as the child of first-generation immigrants, this contradicted many deeply held beliefs about work, delayed gratification (and by extension, happiness). After all, a “scarcity mindset” dictates that there’s never enough and that we must always be striving or else we risk being left behind. In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear author Elizabeth Gilbert describes how in Western Civilization the “common creative contract still seems to be one of suffering.” Creating great things (whether it’s art or companies) is accompanied by the belief that:
I shall destroy myself and everyone around me in an effort to bring forth my inspiration, and my martyrdom shall be the badge of my creative legitimacy.
But can joy turn a profit?
Here’s where RadReads enters the picture. In 2015, it was nothing but a side project with a minuscule (but loyal following) of 500ish subscribers. But it brought me joy. And it checked the key boxes of freedom, autonomy, and creative expression.
And while there was no suffering, there still was a key ingredient that enabled me to power through the writer’s block and the days where I felt totally lost as an entrepreneur: consistency. Brad Stulberg, the author of Peak Performance: Elevate you game and avoid burnout succinctly describes this approach in a tweet:
Don’t aim for consistently heroic efforts. Aim for being heroic at consistency.
Heroic efforts = take a huge toll emotionally, physically, and cognitively. Not a sustainable thing to strive for.
Consistency = compounds over time. Good enough over and over again makes you great.
— Brad Stulberg (@BStulberg) September 18, 2018
It’s seductive to go after the heroic efforts, the big wins that get you the accolades. But any entrepreneur will tell you that it’s the small unsexy (and often unnoticeable) steps that compound over time. These small steps often feel mundane, but just imagine if each one of these brought you just a droplet of joy.
And here’s the crazy part. Once you compound consistency, you create an environment for the big wins to show up. For me, it’s been flattering press (CNN, Bloomberg, Barron’s), speaking gigs (WSJ and TedX) and a wonderful roster of coaching and consulting clients. By no means have I figured this out (full disclosure: RadReads still isn’t profitable) but every damn day is a blast!
Tribe of One
Following joy has taking me far off the path of traditional entrepreneurship (I mean, come on…I have a part-time job) but it’s working. It’s not without mountains of self-doubt, but as Ben Casnocha reminds us in The Envy Problem, we all have it in us:
Forge a life so idiosyncratic that it’d be silly to compare yourself head-on to someone else. Take the path less traveled. Adopt a unique life philosophy. Do something crazy.