How to create the next big thing

Dec 02 2013

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to create the next big thing.

One day you’re sitting there beginning to question if your idea is actually as good as you thought—if you have wasted the last year on something that no one cares about—and the next thing you know, everyone has your app or your product, and they love it.

This has to be how it was for all the big guys, right? The concepts behind Facebook, Twitter and reddit that were once considered sort of crazy became crowd favorites. But the key to these stories is that there was a point at which people decided to work hard enough to prove that they weren’t crazy, but rather completely brilliant. People decided to keep thinking, testing and asking no matter what because they believed in their idea. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do at Reese News Lab this semester.

Since August, I’ve been chasing an idea that really may be nuts. It’s crazy complicated, crazy new and crazy hard to iron out. My team realized our idea was crazy about the sixth time our pitch ended in epic failure and confused everyone in the room.

The beauty of the lab is that I got to give this wild idea a chance—and despite several crashes of ineptitude and a long hibernation in the trough of sorrow, I’ve learned that our idea may not be half-bad after all.

As the semester draws to a close, I would like to share some major lessons that I have learned through the start up process.

1. Always think bigger.
This boils down to never settling, and it begins with your initial brainstorms and never really ends. You can always think bigger. Your idea can always grow, you can always be more thorough, and there is almost always a new approach you haven’t thought of. When you begin to settle, your project settles too, and it may be halted from reaching its full potential. So keep brainstorming, keep tossing ideas around, and keep pushing your product forward.

2. When you think you’ve found the right answer … you are probably still wrong.
My team learned this firsthand from countless user surveys and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Your project can take a completely new direction in a matter of seconds and you have to be ready to catch that curve ball. When you think you know something or that you have found the answer to all of your problems, there is a 99 percent chance that you are missing something. One of the most frequent and important reminders we heard all semester in the lab is that we should never start a sentence with “I think” but rather “I know…and here’s how and why,” and it has been one of the toughest parts of the process. The best thing you can do for yourself, your team and your product is to do your homework, constantly seek out more information, and strive to be extremely thorough in every aspect of your project.

3. There really is no “I” in team.
The greatest part of the startup process is the team that you will work with. If you think for one second that you can accomplish anything significant alone, you are mistaken. Teammates provide ideas that vary from your own, encouragement when you feel that everything has turned out for the worst, and a good laugh when you are just really sick of trying to figure out CPMs and subscription rates. Without my team, I would have never known where to start when it came to crunching numbers, and without me, my team would not have data to back up our claims – or a logo and graphics. Overall, a startup team brings together different ideas, skills and personalities, all of which are necessary for any idea to be truly developed and pushed to success.

4. The trough of sorrow is quite deep, but you can only go up from there.
In other words, if you feel the urge to give up, don’t. The process of developing a startup is like one big roller coaster, and you cannot expect to instantly achieve success. You will find yourself in a rut on more than one occasion and you will face a good deal of uncertainty throughout the process, but eventually you figure it all out. Steve Jobs was rejected when he first pitched his ideas, but if he had given up none of us would have an iPhone. And without perseverance, no one in the startup world would be able to move past the idea stage to accomplish the next big anything.

The reality of it all is that any one of us could create the next big thing—whether it be a new business model for online news or a time machine—all you need is a little bit of skill, a lot of determination and a willingness to always continue learning.

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