Really Good Bad Ideas

Not all ideas are created equally.  Occasionally we have ideas that on the surface seem like they’ll be awesome, but then as we begin to do some validation of the ideas, they prove somewhat less than spectacular.

I have whole folders in Dropbox and notebooks in Evernote dedicated to some of these projects that I refer to as “floaters”.

Allow me to share a few.

Rankmaster – a tool that was going to be a basic rank tracking tool where you put in your keywords and your website URL and it goes out and searches those keywords to find where they rank in Google.

On the surface, this was a boring idea, lots of tools already do this pretty well, but scratch below the surface and this is where the idea got interesting.

What I wanted to do was to make this app fully cloud-enabled running entirely as a service in Amazon.  It would then expand your keywords silently in the background, running them through Google’s Keyword tools to get more and more long tail keywords based on your primary seed keywords.

Those expanded keywords would then be searched in Google to see where your site ranked for those as well.  The idea being that the tool could discover additional keywords you were ranking for in the background while you slept.

We’d also track your site against all the other keywords in our database, so if I was looking for the keyword “peaches” and your site was about “apples” if you ranked for a keyword I was watching, then the site would show you those keyword rankings as well.  Basically, this was a big data play.

But wait, there’s more!  There was going to be a WordPress plugin that then showed rankings for your pages and posts in your Dashboard right inside your site.

That still sounds like a very solid idea, but the reality is, it was too ambitious on many fronts.  Creating a horizontally and vertically scalable app from the ground up on Amazon AWS is beyond the grasp of most average WordPress developers you can find.  Combine that with the extensive scraping of Google pages, then doing analytics on the data and this required ninja level developers.

Except those are hard to find and really expensive.  The additional cost of Amazon infrastructure and application support just meant this was never going to get off the ground, but it was a damn good really bad idea!

RapidAction Workshop – a community for like-minded business owners to talk about their marketing technology requirements and discuss how to use them more effectively.

I setup vBulletin, got it integrated with WordPress via DAP, tested everything out and talked to a half dozen potential customers.  Everyone I spoke to thought it was a great idea and said they’d be happy to pay a monthly recurring fee to be a member.

But there was something gnawing at me and then one day it totally dawned on me, I like being part of other people’s forums, but the idea of running my own has never really appealed to me.  I like to participate and chime in, but going out spruiking it to people to get new members… Not so much.

I spent a few weeks trying to convince myself that this was a good idea, but I eventually realised it wasn’t something I was cut out for so I pulled the pin.

Podcast Network – back in 2009 I started doing some work in my spare time on trying to figure out what it would take to build my own podcast network.  I spoke to a guy I’d met at a Microsoft event here in Sydney who was in the advertising world and he told me that the market was “crying out” for a reputable podcast network.  He told me that if I could put the tech pieces together, he could sell the ad spots for the show.

With that, I set off talking to dozens of podcasters that I was listening to at the time or people who I thought would be able to create great shows.  The feedback ranged from lukewarm to “OMG can we start today?”

The talent was going to be easy to find, so I drew up a list of 20 initial shows and sent them off to the ad guy.  I figured that would get him started bringing together suitable sponsors and matching them up with shows.

In the meantime, I started looking at the infrastructure required.  That was going to be challenging because the ways we can easily do this now were not quite as available in 2009.  It was going to be possible, but the network was going to need to get good advertising rates to make it viable.

Ah yes, the advertising piece.  Let’s call it out right now, this was the Achilles heel right from the get-go.  Advertisers in 2009 liked the idea of podcasting, but they weren’t going to trip over themselves to sponsor shows.  Basically, of the 20 shows I could pull together, there were two that generated some interest and zero pre-commits.

Thankfully I was busy enough with everything else I was doing that I was happy to let this die quickly.  In retrospect, getting the shows made and produced would have been a monumental effort because of the technical limitations the hosts would have had even if I could have sold ad spots.

And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.  I’ve looked at web development, e-commerce store development, pay-as-you-go site support and more information product ideas than you can shake a stick at.  My Dropbox and Evernote are graveyards of really good bad ideas.

These days there are tons of people telling you to start businesses really quickly and fail fast.  I think that’s genuinely stupid.  Every single one of those floaters I described was (and in some cases still are) good ideas.  However, logistically or technically, they’re actually bad ideas and that supersedes everything else.

Ideas on their own are worthless.  It’s 100% about your ability to execute.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had people try to get me to sign NDAs and things to hear their “ideas” that they have no ability to execute on.

You only have some many hours in a day.  If you spend your time executing on bad ideas that you end up throwing away every few weeks, you’re never going to get anywhere.

The problem with this approach is that you’ll start to make some progress and emotionally you’ll buy into the idea even more.  The more you emotionally commit, the less likely that your logical brain is going to be able to successfully pull the ripcord and get you a soft landing.

What I described with those projects was the process of validating ideas before you engage in the execution phase.  You do your research, you figure out what it’s going to cost to run or maintain the idea and you engage some suppliers and customer to see if they’re willing to put some skin in the game.  From a time and effort perspective, this is a way cheaper way to test your ideas.  If you can’t make the idea make sense at this sub-orbital superficial level, then there’s no chance it will ever work.

And lastly, this is something that doesn’t get talked about at all, so I’m going to share my thoughts.  You often hear people say that “winning is a habit”, but the reverse is also true, “losing is a habit”.  If you get used to losing then you become dulled to the sting and your motivation to succeed drops.  If you keep working on things that fail you’re going to destroy your self-confidence and that makes being a winner a hard thing to achieve.

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