Entrepreneurs: What to Do if You Don’t Have an Idea

This post was originally published in OnStartups. I hope to be doing further guest posting on that site, which is one of my favorites. Thanks to Dharmesh Shah for his edits.

Don’t have an idea yet for a startup?

Then get off your butt and go work for someone else’s cool startup!  And the first place I would want to work would be a company that has momentum, powerful friends, and has been thoroughly vetted by pros.lazy relaxed

How can you identify these opportunities? It is easy–just look at the companies the best venture capitalists are backing. A company that has just received a round of funding with star investors definitionally is the kind of place you should be working at to best experience the highs and lows that startups are about…and by screening for companies to work for via the lens of a VC, you improve the odds that there are more of the highs.

Check out the job postings from Sequoia CapitalUnion Square VenturesFoundry GroupSpark CapitalBenchmarkFirst Round CapitalKleiner Perkins, etc.  And, of course, HubSpot (Dharmesh’s startup) has raised over $50 million from top-tier VCs and is looking for great talent.

Not quite as efficient, but just as valuable is to hang out at a top accelerator and meet the companies there. Y-Combinator has its own job board, as does TechStars, and I suspect that many of the accelerators in the TechStars NetworkDogpatch LabsFounderFuelMassChallenge, etc. will have something up soon if not already.

Last of all, there’s the hackathons, get-togethers, and other social events, planned and unplanned.  But if it were me looking for a job, I’d go with the folks that have already passed one of the hardest startup challenges–raising bucks. As Damon Runyon said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…but that’s the way to bet.”

PPS–If you’re interested in becoming a VC, I give the same advice: go work for a startup first.

2 thoughts on “Entrepreneurs: What to Do if You Don’t Have an Idea

  1. Jason Evanish Reply

    Working for someone else is not always the best solution:

    1) You don’t know where the startup you join might end up at.
    – If you join a company pre-product market fit, then the company could very well pivot away from the area you are interested in or have it turn out that the industry isn’t as appealing as it first seemed.

    2) Founders are by definition athletes
    – If you’re going to start a company, you need to have a wide range of skills; it’s breadth over depth. That means if you’re truly in a position to build a company, but reverse course and join a company, your only bet is to join early. A post-product-market fit company will deem you too much of a generalist and even if they hire you, you won’t learn the skills you need to found a company there anyways because your role will be specialized and buried under management layers.

    3) Starting with an Idea isn’t necessarily the best or only way
    – There are plenty of good examples of companies that were started first by a group of people wanting to work together and then figuring out the right idea. Former Boston juggernaut DEC was founded under just those circumstances.

    4) Customer Development provides new opportunities for idea generation
    – Why worry about any of your own inspiration when you can go out and solve a real world problem someone will pay you to fix? Using customer development methodology, there’s no reason to stress about a lack of your own idea. Go find a problem.

    5) It doesn’t have to be your idea
    – Twitter was technically Jack Dorsey’s idea and yet much of Odeo team was considered co founders and were there at its birth. There’s not reason to let ego get in the way of working with others on a great idea that someone else came up with.

    6) Startups are about solving problems. Results vary.
    -Every startup is different. Some people spend months looking for a cofounder, others struggle for early customers. You can’t always control what you’ll struggle most with, but there’s no reason to give up because you lack an idea anymore than you should give up because you lack anything else.

    Startups are about how creative you can get in working through problems and how many walls you’re willing to run through. If it was all easy, cookie-cutter and repeatable, you wouldn’t need a genetic defect to want to do this stuff and the success rate would be much higher.

  2. hemang c s (@hemangcs) Reply

    If at all you would want to start up…..a) you’d have probably stopped working for money or experience(even of a startup) long back…b) you’d have bigger reasons to startup than just adding 0’s to your bank balance …c) The “next big Idea” would be the last thing, stopping you..

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