Motivation · Commitments

How do you stick to a startup idea and stop changing your mind?

Karan Rai Founder at Startup, E-commerce Entrepreneur ◆ Fashion & Beauty Writer ◆ Fashion Stylist

October 23rd, 2015

Hi, 

I have a new startup idea everyday. I keep going back and forth between ideas. I can't commit. 

Something keeps taking me back to the one I started with but as soon as someone suggests a better idea, I jump at that idea. 

How do I make a choice and not look back?

Varun Mehta CEO of Disqovery

October 23rd, 2015

This is the easiest and most exciting part of your journey. If you can't focus on any one idea now, what will happen when you're knee deep in the trough of sorrow? How will you stick with it then?

If you feel this way right now, it likely means none of your ideas resonate enough with you personally. Opportunity size, market validation, and everything else are all useless if you aren't excited enough to focus from day one.

Don Chartier

October 23rd, 2015

A theory -- It's possible that your original idea is pretty seductive on the surface, and then you dig deeper and realize it's not that compelling. Something else comes up that seems more attractive, and you jump on it. In the meantime, you forget why the first idea wasn't so brilliant, and go back to it once the challenges of the second idea become apparent.

So, next time you leave your first idea, write down why. Then tape that note up on the wall so that next time you're tempted to go back to it, you won't.

I hope you don't have the same problem with bad boyfriends...

Also, building on another answer is a "commitment mechanism". I've told everybody I meet that I'm doing "X", so that now if I change my mind, I'm going to have to explain why I gave up. I've put more pressure on myself to stick with it unless and until I'm forced to stop.

MaxBlox/Founder Institute Director, Chennai Area at The Founder Institute

October 23rd, 2015

This is a hard problem. The tongue-in-cheek answer of "Ritalin" can actually provide one answer. If you normally have a hard time making decisions among multiple choices ( as in restaurants), then it maybe a fundamental problem of personality and may require some analysis and treatment.

A second answer is to make an irrevocable commitment to one idea. Such as spending a bunch of money on website/cards etc. Assuming that the ideas are not initial ideas but have gone through some amount of assessment, one choice may be as good as another.

Third: I built a simple spreadsheet to help founders rank their ideas. But it will still require discipline to stick with the top choice. I could not attach a screenshot, since it seems allow only URLs. You can create your own OR connect with me to get the original.


Daniel Turner Interaction Designer, Xerox PARC

November 6th, 2015

Lexi is right to a degree, but you should start with people, not with your "idea". And do NOT ask people questions like "What if I told you an app would..." or "Would you like this?" You will get bad data; this is a long-known and long-demonstrated thing. 

Again, read Erika Hall's "Just Enough Research" as a start. It's not expensive, and not a long read, and is fun. Ask open-ended questions about people and their lives. Discover how real people think about the problems they face every day. How do they face them? How do they not face them? Do NOT propose what you think are solutions.

Yes, it's more work. But this work correlates strongly with still having a product/company six months down the road, as opposed to blowing through things and being in debt. And I'm always baffled by people who are proud of how hard they're working to get a startup going but shrink from easy work that will help them succeed.

Daniel Turner Interaction Designer, Xerox PARC

October 27th, 2015

I'm always baffled by the myth that "ideas" are all you need. Everyone has an uncounted number.

The question becomes: how do you test/validate your guesses? Remember, every individual can, on the spot, come up with dozens of "you know what I'd like to see" thoughts. It doesn't take business school or calling oneself an entrepreneur.

Every "startup idea" you have has exactly one customer: you. So let's refine the question about testing and validation to: how can you do... let's call it user research. And this is a known field, with proven processes and techniques. Steve Blank calls it customer development (I think the first few chapters of "The Four Epiphanies" is available online, where he shows how furniture.com plowed ahead with their "idea" and lost billions, while Design Within Reach did research and tailored their work based on this). Read Erika Hall's "Just Enough Research". It's short.

The key is (and what I tell startups) is you have to honestly ask, and answer: What problem does this solve? For whom? And how do you know this? The last is crucial. And this is not asking stakeholders, and not asking people in or out of focus groups, "Would you like this if..." because for a ton of reasons this will give you poor and misleading data.

Best data is that over 95% of startups, even in curated contexts like Y Combinator, fail. And usually for exactly the reason that the founder plows ahead with an "idea" that appeals to... the founder. 

I'd also recommend this talk: https://vimeo.com/24749599

Daniel Turner Interaction Designer, Xerox PARC

October 28th, 2015

"Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard." Wasn't that Steve Jobs? 

Again, just making a pitch for doing user research. Stakeholders give poor data on whether your "idea" will be useful to users. Focus groups give extremely poor data. You are not the user; if you take money to build something you know you want, cool, you have a market of exactly one person. 

Again, this is a known field, and one that correlates to sustained product/company orders of magnitude higher than the startup success rate (remember, even 93% of Y Combinator starups are out of business -- not sold, not acquhired, not pivoted, dead -- within a year). Why wouldn't you take a week or two of minimal cost to do something that has been shown to improve your odds that much? Of course, you have to able to accept when data show that the vision you're passionate about means bupkus to real users.

Jeff Fitzmyers Project Manager at Energy Remodeling Inc.

October 28th, 2015

Consider that the reason you can't commit is simply a readout that the right idea for you has not come up. Wait until you are inspired with a timely and useful idea that you love. 

Aleksandra Czajka

October 24th, 2015

I face the same problem and had to learn that, no matter what anyone else sees from the outside and no matter what opinions they might have, there are reasons I get bored with an idea and it's not because of what others might say... that I have no focus. I wouldn't get discouraged by thoughts that you might think you have ADD. If you are not engaged by the idea, don't force yourself. Entrepreneurship should be natural to you and same should go for your idea. If you force yourself to stay with it, disregarding thoughts that come into your mind that you would rather focus on something else, you are going against nature. Instead, I would stop and analyze WHY you are getting discouraged. Did you determine (subconsciously or consciously) that the idea might not work for one reason or another. Did you have conversations with others about the ideas that have given you better insight? Did you learn that in order to make your idea fruitful you would need to do lots of things you just don't want to do? That would put me off. Is that bad? Hell no. I would much rather think through an idea and "fail it fast" than tell myself to quiet my thoughts and unnaturally force myself to work on an idea simply because I think that I SHOULD have dedicated myself to something already. 

Consider that alternative. What if you dedicated yourself to something for years and it was a bad idea. You look back and in hindsight saw what your instincts were telling you. You just wasted years of your life. Trust your instincts and analyse them to determine what they are telling you. Find something you are passionate in and you cannot stop telling people about it. The best sales person is the one that isn't really selling but sharing knowledge about an amazing product/service that they fully believe in. 

There is no amount of time that idea creation should take. Some people attach to one idea, go on it and never have another in their life. I am with you. Ideas come to me from everywhere. That's why it's hard sometimes for you to focus. 

My last cents are, listen to your primal desires. Your conscious mind could think that you know yourself fully and that you want to focus on specific things. But, it's your subconscious desires that are deeply rooted that are the ones that always stick around, drive you and are the reasons why you stick with things. For example, consciously I stand for a lot of things like integrity, honesty, etc. But, subconsciously I simply love to build things, I am fulfilled by building something and have people use it and love it. That's a primal feeling. Focus on an idea that will fulfill that primal desire and your idea itself will drive you as opposed to the other way around.

Calvin Moore CEO and Founder of CEM Environmental

October 27th, 2015

Hi Karan.  This is another question/problem that many entrepreneurs have and ask me how to solve.  I retort with one simple two-part question..."Do you have, or have you written out a Mission Statement and Vision Statement?"  98% of the entrepreneurs that I ask the question of say No, and that they don't need either because they know what it is that they want to do.  Again, I retort with, I don't care who you are, and/or the size of your company...You Need Both a Mission and Vision Statement, both will keep you on track.

Also when writing each, please stay away from what I call clever disguised language, Mission and Vision Statements should be simple and easily understood and followed, allow me to provide an example: 

Lets say that we know of a young child, 6 years old, who is an extremely fast runner.  When people see him run, they all say, that kid was BORN to run.  That is what your Mission Statement should revolve around, what was your company BORN to do?  With regard to the little kid, his Mission Statement might read, "The mission of Little Johnny is to run fast and continue to run fast until he wins a gold medal in the Olympics!"  As you can see, its straight and to the point and anyone can understand it.

The Vision Statement allows us to see how this will be accomplished in a generalized overview, it might read something like this, "It is Little Johnny's vision to one day enter into his freshman year at Fasttrack High School, be coached by Track legend, Flatshoes Magert, then gain acceptance into the University of Olympic Athletes to be coached by Gail Lightningfoot, all before winning a gold medal in the Olympic games!"  Again, a vision that is straight and to the point.

Your executive summary and/or business plan will be written around both your Mission and Vision Statements, this will definitely keep you on track and committed to the laser-tuned success of your venture.

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

October 28th, 2015

Nofyah, I think there's a difference between pivoting on execution of an idea and simply getting started. I would agree with Jeff that if you can't get started then either (a) you don't have an idea that is really inspiring you or (b) you lack the self-confidence to start *anything*. 

Not to play junior psychologist (since apparently my medical advice was ignored), but parsing Karan's words, it sort of looks like (b) to me... in that she is highly influenced by the ideas of others and immediately thinks they're better than hers. But she keeps coming back to her idea, which leads me to believe that she *does* have an idea that inspires her.

First conquer the fear of starting anything and then picking something will come much easier.