Browsing articles from "September, 2011"

The Big Idea

Are you building a big-idea company or a company of ideas?

Marshall Poe, who first brought to light the transformational nature of crowd-sourced publishing with his article The Hive in 2006, poses the above question as it relates to writing books in the October issue of the Atlantic. He might well be talking about startups.

Poe had long dreamt of writing a book of ideas. After he wrote The Hive, about Wikipedia, he was able to get a book deal, because, as he described it, he had two key ingredients.

First, he had a platform. “A platform is something you stand on. It makes you taller than you are.” He had been a professor at a major university (Harvard) and a writer at a major magazine (the Atlantic).

Second, he had a Big Idea. “A big idea is an enthusiastically stated thesis, usually taking the form of ‘This changes everything and will make you rich, happy and beautiful.’ A big idea must be counterintuitive: the this that changes everything must be something everyone thinks is trivial, but in fact matters a great deal.”

Ultimately, his book was not published because instead of being a big-idea book it was “a book of ideas.” His book was based on research, which contradicted much of the basis of the big idea, just as a lot of research “cast[s] doubt on the reality of wise crowds, tipping points, and long tails.”

Building a game-changing startup is all about The Big Idea. When investors say a particular entrepreneur or CEO is missing “the magic” what they’re really saying is that the pitch fails to articulate–and the company is not acting on a big idea. There may be lots of great ideas–lots of great features–articulated in the pitch and implemented in the product, but there’s no Big Idea to fall in love with.

Poe’s article provides incredibly nuanced insight into what makes for a great pitch, what sells, and ultimately, what separates a big-idea book from “a book of ideas.” Many of these insights also hold true for startups. The difference is that it’s the job of the Entrepreneur not only to have The Big Idea, but to make it a reality.

Sep 15, 2011