A famous New Yorker cartoon shows a confused writer seated with his typewriter outside on his front lawn. Surrounding him are dogs, dogs, and more dogs. His wife is on the front porch, and she calls out to him: “You should write about dogs.”
This is how we feel at Ballistic Ventures about ideas for startups. If you are surrounded by dogs, and you know dogs, and you work every day with dogs, then your startup idea should probably be about dogs. The best ideas come from what you know.
Now obviously, startups must make money. And at Ballistic, we will evaluate your startup proposals with an eye toward commercial viability. But when it comes to the original spark for new companies, our experience suggests that domain expertise is a major advantage.
Take operational technology, for example. We all know that OT security has been fertile ground for startups. But many ideas have come from information technology experts with weak industrial control expertise. As a result, many OT security startups have struggled.
Now, before you go searching your lawn for dogs, we will admit that good startup ideas can be manufactured. It is possible for entrepreneurs to develop a concept based on research, and to craft a successful startup in an area for which they have little expertise.
The proverbial MBA, for example, might notice through research that SaaS or APIs or cloud workloads need to be secured. The MBA then seeks technical partners who share the idea that a startup might succeed in this area. So yes, ideas are sometimes not about dogs.
And incubators do exist that stir individuals and groups together in a bullpen environment. The hope is that their collage of different expertise areas will result in the spark of a new idea. So yes, this does happen, and magic does come from diverse combinations of people.
But the truth is that you will have a major advantage if your ideas come from your personal experience base. This can seem unfair if your experience base involves writing poetry, or performing personal training, or working in a senior citizen’s home.
But let’s think this through. If your expertise is working with senior citizens, then your startup idea might involve developing new ways to protect citizens from social engineering attacks. Suddenly, your unique experience enables creative insight that others might not have.
So, our advice regarding new startup ideas is this: Rather than start with what makes money, or what solves real customer problems, or what you think a venture capital firm like Ballistic will like – all admittedly vital aspects of a successful startup – we recommend a different path.
Develop your new idea from what you know. Start from your experience base – and if you are lucky, then maybe you can parlay this spark into a wonderful new company that really does make money and really does solve customer problems.
Good luck with your idea. We look forward to hearing from you.