A healthy obsession, combined with a process to cultivate ideas, can lead you to establishing a successful startup company.
Before Walt Disney became famous and produced the first-ever full-length animated musical feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” Disney began drawing patriotic pictures about World War I in high school to show his support for Americans in uniform. According to Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler and World War One Walt, a self-reliant Disney attempted to join the Army but was rejected for being too young.
After forging the date of birth on his birth certificate, he joined the Red Cross and volunteered as an ambulance driver in France. In this role, his extreme interest in cartooning continued and, in fact, turned into an obsession. He drew cartoons on the side of his ambulance for decoration and had some of his work published in the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes.
Many veterans are sketching ideas with bunkmates overseas, at home with their military spouse, or while social distancing with friends amidst the global pandemic. When exploring ideas to launch a new successful startup, the best course of action is to the first search for real problems worth solving, focusing particularly on potential customers. But coming up with great ideas is easier said than done.
Investor Paul Graham once said, “Finding startup ideas is a subtle business, and that’s why most people who try fail so miserably.” Merely thinking of ideas won’t help you bring a startup into existence. You’ve got to be immersed in a space long enough to see its problems, like American entrepreneur Walt Disney.
“To succeed, work hard, never give up, and above all cherish a magnificent obsession.”— Walt Disney
Walt Disney lived in the future and built what was missing. When no one thought talking cartoons would be famous, Disney added sound and changed the industry forever. Disney embraced new technologies and created innovative movies by sharing wild ideas and using creative methods like spreading out a series of cartoon drawings on a floor in an untidy fashion. This messy process would eventually become known as a storyboard. Disney and staff would use storyboards to evaluate every project going forward. Ideas posted on storyboards introduced historical developments in animation history like “Bambi,” “Cinderella,” and Disneyland.
Following your obsession is one thing, but systematic action is what brings an idea to life. Below are three creative methods for evaluating the successful startup opportunities inspired by Disney’s storyboard process:
Ash Maurya, the creator of Lean Canvas, has developed a framework so entrepreneurs can spend more time building versus planning the business. This template enables you to capture your idea in 20 minutes versus 20 weeks. The canvas focuses on nine building blocks:
- Customer segments
- Key metrics
- Unfair advantage
- Unique value proposition
- Cost structure
- Revenue streams
Compared to writing a business plan, which can take several weeks or months, you can outline multiple possible business models on a Lean Canvas in one afternoon. More importantly, a single page business model is much easier to share with others, which means it will be read by more people and also more frequently updated. It’s a living document.
Developed by Jake Knapp at GV, the sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through ideation, prototyping, and testing ideas with your target market. This method can be useful for teams of any size in any industry. A sprint relies on detailed plans from individuals as opposed to a group brainstorm. With a sprint, your team can also compress time cycles before making expensive investments. The five steps include:
- Map out problem
- Sketch solutions
- Turn ideas into a testable hypothesis
- Build a realistic prototype
- Test with humans
The sprint gives teams a shortcut to learning without actually building and launching an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. (Editor’s note: You can learn more about MVPs and how to launch them in Harry’s excellent presentation here.)
Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup, stated about sprints, “Within five days, you’ll move from idea to prototype to decision, saving you and your team countless hours and countless dollars.” Learn more about how this process is used at Google in Jake Knapp’s book, Sprint.
Brainstorming is a structured, team-based method of rapid idea generation. When searching for a successful startup idea, it’s essential to incorporate a customer’s unmet need and disruptive new technology. A brainstorm can surface new use cases with modern technology and business models to solve customers’ pain.
One approach to brainstorming—decide on an opportunity space, search for an unmet need, and conduct sufficient observation and primary market research (minimum of 50 direct interviews — not family and friends) and adequate secondary market research to vet and validate your opportunity thoroughly.
IDEO, an international design and consulting firm for product innovation, has run thousands of brainstorms, both internally and externally with clients. IDEO values teamwork, utilizing each team member’s idea. IDEO abides by seven rules for every brainstorming session:
- Go for quantity
- Encourage wild ideas
- Be visual
- Defer judgment
- One conversation at a time
- Stay focused on the topic
- Build on the opinions of others
These are just three creative methods you can use to help you and your bunkmates generate more innovative ideas. Although different approaches, all three are similar to Disney’s storyboard process, in that they cultivate a clear sequence of ideas. Whether an entrepreneur uses a whiteboard, spreadsheet, or post-it notes, visualization and the sharing of ideas in a regular operation will expedite results.
Want to learn more about becoming a military entrepreneur? Try these other great articles from Harry Alford:
- WHY VETERANS ARE UNIQUELY EQUIPPED TO BE GREAT ENTREPRENEURS
- MILITARY ENTREPRENEURSHIP 101: SUCCESSES AND FAILURES
- IS BUSINESS SCHOOL THE BEST PLACE TO PREPARE VETERANS FOR STARTUPS?