“Validating Startup Ideas:” David Walks Episode 23 with @Lumen on Columbus Street

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David Smooke:         Hello, and welcome to David Walks, episode 23. I’m here with my buddy, Lumen.

Lumen Sivitz:             Hey, David. Good to see you, man.

David Smooke:         Good to see you too. We’re on Columbus Street, just past Little Italy, San Francisco. Today, we’re going to talk about the growing number of bad business ideas in the world and what that means for …

Speaker 3:                 Hello.

David Smooke:         What that means for businesses. Yeah, this restaurant that has everything outside? We’re like right next to everybody. She’s video chatting, working on that selfie. All right. Let’s focus.

Lumen Sivitz:             I founded a start up, and something that happened a few years after that is people now come to me [crosstalk 00:00:51] when they want to talk about their [certified 00:00:53] cost. They want to discuss it because I’ve done it before. It’s nice. I like talking to them about it. Often these are people who have never tried to execute one of their own ideas. What’s happened is that I find myself often talking to these people and trying to help them understand why parts of these ideas are … they’re some sort of kind of illogical path they’ve gone down, in thinking there’s a demand for something, or there’s just some sort of a central flaw. It’s not … that’s the case when I think of most ideas is that they’re full of flaws until you kind of massage them until they turn into some sort of diamonds.

David Smooke:         Yeah. I mean if they were perfect or if they were very, very profitable, it would already be happening. Not that that’s like a real barometer, but you have to understand why they’re not happening now, and what can be different to make them happen.

Lumen Sivitz:             Totally, right? It’s an iterative process. What’s interesting is that I’m talking to these people who are unaccustomed on … to iterate on their own ideas. They have an idea, they talk to you about it, but they’re almost as if it’s set in stone for what that idea looks like. What’s interesting to me is that we … I feel like we see just a growing number of entrepreneurs and a growing number of people who are believing they can have an idea that can be impactful. What’s [crosstalk 00:02:18]

David Smooke:         I think we should start calling them Barbie Doll ideas.

Lumen Sivitz:             Barbie Doll ideas, why?

David Smooke:         The Barbie Doll is like the perfect girl. Here she is with her hair, and thin waist, and big tits, and you’re like, “this is how people are supposed to look, and this is what sold, this is how we perceive what sold before.” How’s that comparison? Do you think we can get it going?

Lumen Sivitz:             Well, I … It’s interesting. I guess one of the problems here is these ideas don’t look like Barbies. They look like Barbies, that have perhaps been run over by a truck.

David Smooke:         Maybe we should call them Ugly Pets? We can call them Ugly Pets. They’re your pet, you love it, you think it’s perfect, but really …

Server:                        Thank you.

David Smooke:         You’re welcome.

… this pet is really ugly.

Lumen Sivitz:             Okay. Well, I’m into it. I think that one of the key things about this discussion I think is that these things have to be able to change. Even if it was an Ugly Pet to start with, or if it’s a beautiful Barbie, it is going to at some level, it’s going to have to go through a process of iteration, as you begin to work on it.

David Smooke:         With all of that … the Pinocchio moment?

Lumen Sivitz:             Sure.

David Smooke:         Poor Pinocchio becomes a real boy.

Lumen Sivitz:             I guess …

David Smooke:         I’m rolling today.

Lumen Sivitz:             Loving it, loving it. The thing that is most interesting to me about this is how good of it … How important is it that when these ideas are surfaced to the world in friendly conversations that there is a dialogue about validity? Is it good that you can just have ideas and you can act like you’ve got some great solution for a monumental problem even though your solution doesn’t work, even if the problem did exist? Or is better that we have this really open, frank dialogue and people become just more equipped at an early stage of their lives to understand what a good idea is, because we’re going to see a greater proliferation of entrepreneurship as time goes on because the tools to create powerful ideas are more readily available.

David Smooke:         Yeah, and just the sheer volume of the population. There’s going to be a lot more ideas. There’s going to be a lot more markets. Just this week, an idea that … Someone told me this at a bar – which is where he came up with the idea, you’d say it’s really dumb. His idea was to pick up rocks, put them in a package, and sell them to people as people’s pets.

Lumen Sivitz:             Uh huh.

David Smooke:         Pet Rock sold millions of rocks as pets. If you would have told this to someone in 1977, the year before he came up with the idea, people would be like, “Dude. Go back to the bar. Have one more drink. Then go to sleep and forget you had this idea and work on something else tomorrow.”

Lumen Sivitz:             Yeah. Let’s talk about that. Is that a bad idea? Or was it just … is it a bad idea that succeeded in spite of itself? Or is it … was it a timing factor that made it a good idea, or perhaps …

David Smooke:         He was hitting on some kind of big human need that you don’t really think about as this being able to solve it. Humans want to take care of things and they also think it’s like … if the thing makes them smile, like a cute puppy, like a Chia Pet would be the next generation of Pet Rocks, which that actually had a little tech behind it. What I’m getting at is this one, I don’t think it’s a bad idea, and I think the proof is the adoption they’ve had for it.

Yeah, we can keep going down Columbus.

Lumen Sivitz:             Yeah, okay. I think that you bring up a really interesting point, which is like … How … Is there such thing as a bad idea at all? Or is it all the framing of the idea, or is it just a dangerous practice to label things as bad ideas because everything looks like a bad idea until it is a good idea?

David Smooke:         Yeah. Until it has adoption? I’d say adoption is the validation point, adoption and money. If people are willing to use it and pay for it, spend time with it.

Lumen Sivitz:             I think that is one of the things. I think there’s kind of this … I think having ideas and not trying to validate the opportunity for adoption or validate their ability to be adopted is toxic.

David Smooke:         Yes. Especially when people are like, “Oh, yeah. I want to meet with you about my new start up idea,” and I’m like, “okay. Great. What is it?” They’re like, “No, no. I have to tell you in person.” It’s like, “Dude, get your shit together.” Who’s going to steal your idea, number one. If they do, it’s validation, number three if the person that actually built it, that made the idea and if they go out and they test your idea, and build it and validate it, you know it works and you could spend more time on it and make it better. I don’t know. What I’m getting at more than any of that is the reservation of people to talk about their ideas. It’s like you have to figure out … That’s like the first step towards if you can test it. You have to be able to talk about it at some level to …

Lumen Sivitz:             I think this goes back to the issue …

David Smooke:         … go out in the world.

Lumen Sivitz:             … of people working under an assumption that their idea somehow was born perfect. The idea that you’re not going to talk about it almost means … I’m going to just unveil it at the right moment and everyone is just going to fall in love. Which, if you’ve ever done it before, you know it’s completely insane.

David Smooke:         Who knows? They could have found the cure to cancer. I don’t know.

Lumen Sivitz:             Yeah. No, but they …

David Smooke:         I mean, that’s the level of ridiculousness.

Lumen Sivitz:             This is the fear that drives people to knock off the better stuff, right?

David Smooke:         Yeah.

Lumen Sivitz:             … is that they think that they have been … they were the one to stumble on the cure for cancer, and that they’re going to miss out on greatest opportunity of their whole life if they start talking about it.

David Smooke:         It’s like, in the mean time, we’ll test to see if it actually does cure cancer.

Lumen Sivitz:             How do you maybe help people overcome this? Would it … have you just done a crazy disservice if you basically tell someone no, you have to test all of your ideas for people to validate them. Get them out in the world. Talk about them. Then they do and someone steals what is ultimately a perfect, a born perfect idea, and makes a mint, a fortune, off of it. I guess on some level, I like to believe that it’s possible that that happens, and that makes me scared of kind of making a platitude that it’s always a good idea to talk about your ideas.

David Smooke:         Yeah. I get it. Look at McDonald’s. What? They, the Ray … The McDonalds brothers have like five burger shops before they sold to Ray Kroc. They didn’t become a giant company because of how good their burgers were in those five burger shops. It’s Ray Kroc, changing the whole assembly line, making the cost of employee go to nothing, making the franchise model take off, getting people to buy the franchises. It’s like what they actually built as these … I mean, it’s a little bit of a sad story, because they didn’t a large … they didn’t get that large of a payout from making the biggest restaurant in the world. At the same time, it wasn’t their ideas that built the biggest restaurant in the world.

Lumen Sivitz:             Maybe the thing is that even if you have the Barbie Doll idea, or the perfect idea, or whatever you want to call it, it’s ultimately the execution that’s going to make it successful? If the [first 00:09:39] of execution is validation. You’ve got to validate your ideas.

David Smooke:         Cool. All right, we made it to 901 Columbus Café, one of the best places to work. Thanks for taking a walk with me down Columbus.

Lumen Sivitz:             Been a pleasure.