Idea Maze

Working on a startup is like entering a maze.

There are many possible paths you can take in a maze, and many lead to dead-ends.

Some paths lead to treasure and others lead to death.

Having a good startup idea means you've developed long-term plans and have foreseen possible paths according to how the world changes.

Balaji Srinivasan calls this the idea maze:

A good founder is capable of anticipating which turns lead to treasure and which lead to certain death. A bad founder is just running to the entrance of (say) the “movies/music/filesharing/P2P” maze or the “photosharing” maze without any sense for the history of the industry, the players in the maze, the casualties of the past, and the technologies that are likely to move walls and change assumptions.

When you're in a maze, there's no way to map it out completely.

But there are four places you can look for help:

  1. History - almost all good ideas have been tried before, figure out what they did right and wrong
  2. Analogy - look at similar businesses and build the maze by analogy (Airbnb for "peer economy" and eBay for marketplace)
  3. Theories - look at historical data on startups, and theories by smart observers that generalize the data.
  4. Direct Experience - put yourself in interesting mazes and give yourself time to figure it out.

If there are other people in the maze with you, that means you might be onto something.