I’ve decided to publish my first self-development book, Self-Made Success: Ivy League Shark Tank Entrepreneur Reveals 48 Secret Strategies To Live Happier, Healthier, and Wealthier. You can order it here. I release an excerpt from the book every Sunday as a series of blog posts called “Self-Made Sundays.” Below is the fourth blog post. Read the last one here.
Success Strategy: Understand That Million-Dollar Ideas Are Easy
Million-dollar ideas are everywhere. Having a million-dollar idea is easy. Executing that million-dollar idea is hard.
Execution of million-dollar ideas is difficult because it takes time and effort. Most people don’t have the time to pursue the great ideas they have, nor are they willing to put in the effort to bring their ideas to fruition.
Many people are fooled into thinking that what makes million-dollar companies is the idea. The idea doesn’t matter all that much. The execution is far more important.
A classic example of people putting too much value on the idea is a TV show I’m very familiar with — Shark Tank. Shark Tank is so appealing because viewers think to themselves, “why didn’t I think of that?” or “wow, I could’ve thought of that simple idea.” Viewers are placing way too much importance on the idea of a particular product or service on the show.
What most people don’t realize is that the execution by the Shark Tank entrepreneurs is far more important. There’s often nothing all that special about the ideas that appear on Shark Tank. But it’s the illusion that ideas are so valuable that can often make the show intoxicatingly addictive to watch. In reality, viewers should be admiring the hustle of the Shark Tank entrepreneurs, not the idea itself.
When do most million-dollar ideas come to you? Interestingly, the best ideas often come to me when I am not actively thinking about how to generate a million dollars. For example, I typically have “eureka” moments in the shower, while running, or right before I fall asleep.
The idea for this book actually came to me when I was attempting to fall asleep while I had a horrible fever. Despite having only gotten 2 hours of sleep the night before and feeling absolutely terrible, my mind just kept racing with ideas for this book. Because I couldn’t sleep, I grabbed my iPhone and started writing down different topics to include in this book. Within an hour, I had 80% of the strategies that are now in this book.
Although I’m not sure if Self-Made Success will be a million-dollar-book, I certainly consider it one of my better ideas. The only difference between me writing this book and someone else who had an idea for a similar book is that I put in the time and effort to actually execute my idea.
There are two possible explanations as to why the best ideas often come to us when we least expect it. First, dopamine is released during activities such as showering or exercising. Dopamine can lead our brains to come up with novel ideas. Second, distractions that keep our brain from actively thinking can actually be very beneficial. Our subconscious mind then has a chance to make insightful connections that would be impossible for our conscious mind to make.
I would like to dispel three big myths related to great ideas. The first is that you shouldn’t share your big idea with others because they will steal it. This is simply not true. No one believes in your idea as much as you believe in your idea. Because most people will not believe in your idea, they will not put in the time and effort needed to pursue the idea.
The second myth is that the “Big Guy” will crush you. Many people will claim that you shouldn’t pursue an idea because a larger company could copy your idea and do it better because they have more resources.
Surprisingly, I actually heard my business partner billionaire Mark Cuban say this in an interview with Tai Lopez. Mark said that he didn’t think Periscope or Meerkat could succeed because Facebook could start live-streaming and reach a much larger audience. (Note: Periscope and Meerkat are social media applications that allow users to live-stream anything directly from their mobile phones to other users on the application.)
Although I rarely dissent with Mark, I disagree with him here. If every entrepreneur believed a larger company could crush him or her, no companies would ever get started.
You could make the same argument about Mark’s own social media application: Cyber Dust -- a mobile chat application that deletes all messages shortly after they are read to maximize privacy. If someone had told Cuban that Cyber Dust would be dust if Facebook Messenger or Apple iMessage implemented a feature that allowed deletion of messages after they are read, would he have still pursued Cyber Dust? My guess is yes.
As an entrepreneur, you have to be overly optimistic and believe that you can do something that no one else can. I’m sure Mark Cuban feels that way about Cyber Dust, and he’s probably correct.
In addition, most large companies won’t crush you for the same reason that other people won’t steal your ideas. No one believes in your idea as much as you believe in your idea. When you are a small startup with virtually no market share, most large companies won’t pay attention to you. But if you grow to become a threat to a large company, then they may start paying attention to you. By that time, it’s probably too late. You have likely gained too much traction for a large company to kill your business.
A good example of this is Facebook vs. Google. If Mark Zuckerberg had believed the “Big Guy” myth, he would have never started Facebook. During Facebook’s early days, an easy way to dismiss the idea would have been to argue that Facebook would be destroyed if Google created its own social media platform. But Google didn’t create the platform because they didn’t believe in Facebook as much as Mark Zuckerberg believed in Facebook. By the time that Google did take notice of Facebook, it was too late. Google tried to create its own social media platform (Google Plus), but Facebook had gained too much traction already. When thinking of million-dollar ideas, don’t worry about the “Big Guy.”
The final myth related to million-dollar ideas is the “First-Mover” myth. We have also seen a product or service that is doing remarkably well, and thought, “I had that idea years ago!” Being the first-mover (or at least the first-mover in your mind) on an idea doesn’t mean much. It’s much more important to be the person who executes the idea best.
For example, I spent the summer of 2012 recording an “On Demand” SAT Course with one of the world’s largest test preparation providers — Veritas Prep. The course consisted of pre-recorded videos of me teaching 100 strategies to ace the SAT exam. The reason I had to partner with a large test prep company to build this online course was that there weren’t many web tools available to me to easily develop an online course (at least, that I knew of at the time).
So I decided that one of the next businesses I wanted to create was a web platform that allowed content producers to easily create and sell online courses. It could be used for SAT courses, yoga courses, accounting courses, cooking courses, etc. Rather than being a content producer myself, I thought there was a much bigger opportunity to create the platform for other content creators.
A couple years later, I learned that companies such as Udemy had been around since 2010 and did exactly what I was thinking of doing. At first, I got angry that I had not pursued my idea earlier. But I now realize that there’s no such thing as a “first-mover” advantage on ideas. It’s all about who executes the idea the best. In this case, the founders of Udemy (and multiple other online course platforms) put in the time and effort to pursue the idea, and I didn’t.
Remember that you can always enter later and do a better job than the “first-mover.” For example, I still think the online course platform market can be disrupted (especially since Udemy takes an astronomical fee from instructors that use its platform - 50% of revenue). But at this point, I personally can’t put in the time and effort necessary to enter this market.
For the Success Example, I’m going to list five ideas here. I believe all of these are million-dollar ideas. But I have no problem sharing them with everyone because most people will not believe that these are million-dollar ideas. Even if you do believe that one is a million-dollar idea, you probably won’t spend the time and effort necessary to make it come to fruition.
(1) FoodLoop - FoodLoop would be a food discovery app that’s essentially “Tinder for Food.” But the best part is, the taco can’t swipe left. So let’s say I can’t decide what to eat, but I know I want vegetarian food within a 2-mile radius of me that’s under $10. I could use the app to quickly swipe through beautiful photos of veggie burgers, cheese enchiladas, falafels, etc. I think pictures are extremely powerful because they don’t require the user to read (such as a Yelp review) and they still say 1000 words — one reason why Instagram has gained so much popularity. I also think users want an easy way to fulfill a universal desire — tinder does this for sexual desires, FoodLoop would do this for food. You could monetize the app through sponsored posts, advertising, and revenue shares of food orders and deliveries.
(2) Karma - Karma would be a positive social network that let’s you acknowledge awesome and amazing happenings in the world. The goal is to spread positivity by creating a network that is free from negative and mundane posts. Each user begins the day with 7 Karma Points to give to friends for great things they are doing. You can give karma points because a friend volunteered at a homeless shelter, won a basketball game, bought you a coffee, just graduated college, opened the door for you, etc. You can also select an “Awesome Person of the Day” to acknowledge one of your friends for that day and access “Karma World,” which would display the posts that have gotten the most Karma Points on the application. You could monetize the app through sponsored posts and advertising.
(3) Maya - Maya would be a mobile app that allows users to earn and give cash for their posts. For example, once Sarah has posted a photo to Maya, her friends and followers can see the post in their newsfeed, and can click a coin to give $0.01 to the post. Users can keep clicking the coin to give more money to the post. The app would integrate directly with Venmo (a widely used payment application among millenials) in order to make it easy for users to exchange small amounts of money. The first objection I get to this application is that most users would not want to give money to posts. I agree. But I also think some users would be willing to exchange nominal amounts of cash because it’s fun, and I think it’s more special to get $0.10 than it is to get 10 likes on a post. In addition, some content producers may be able to earn thousands of dollars i.e. photographers, charities, models, comedians, etc. You could monetize the app through sponsored posts, advertising, and revenue share.
(4) PhoneClear - PhoneClear would be a device/stand positioned in public places such as airports, movie theaters, malls, and restaurants so that patrons could pay $1 to quickly have their phones cleaned by UV radiation that would kill 99.9% of bacteria on their phones. Most people are not aware that their phones are so dirty (most phones are 16x dirtier than a public toilet and 1 in 6 actually has feces on them). To increase awareness of phone uncleanliness, I believe that PhoneClear would need to stir an emotional response in people through a visual mechanism. For example, if people saw just how dirty their phones are under a blacklight that was attached to the PhoneClear stand, then they may be more likely to purchase a clean.
(5) Passengers On An Airplane - Similar to Humans Of New York, Passengers On An Airplane would tell stories of interesting people you meet while sitting next to them on airplanes. Unlike Humans Of New York, I would crowd-source the stories and allow anyone to post a photo and story on the Passengers On An Airplane website. Then, I would let users up-vote the most interesting stories. This would result in some great content with lots of social sharing at no cost. You could monetize the website through advertising.
Maybe some of these ideas sound terrible to you. Maybe some of the above ideas already exist. Maybe there is a big player in the market that could crush me if I pursued any of these ideas. Maybe I’m not the first person to have the ideas above. But all of that does not matter as long as these ideas are executed well.
I don’t mind sharing the previous ideas with everyone because I understand that million-dollar ideas are easy to come up with. Begin to take on this mindset of abundance, rather than a mindset of scarcity. It’s the first step to wealth.
There is no formula for coming up with million-dollar ideas. As stated previously, most of your best ideas will come to you when you’re not actively trying to come up with brilliant ideas. I’m sure you’ve had many million-dollar ideas yourself. However, you likely didn’t pursue it because the execution of the idea was the hard part.
Later in this book, we’ll discuss how to vet different ideas, how to use the least resources and money to execute an idea, and ultimately how to best increase your chances to successfully execute a good idea. But for now, simply realize that million-dollar ideas are easy to come up with…it’s the execution that’s the hard part.
Which previous Success Strategy did you notice while I was discussing this one?
Success Universal Strategy #4: Master The Pareto Principle
Notice that I gave you 5 million-dollar ideas. Given the Pareto Principle that we learned about earlier, how many of those ideas should I pursue? Just one. The 80/20 Principle (or The Pareto Principle) states that 80% of results are due to 20% of effort. Executing just one of these 5 ideas correctly will likely result in 80% of the revenue that all 5 ideas would generate combined. The challenge is deciding which idea is the correct one to pursue.
I personally think it is Maya. Although giving money to posts is a wild concept at first, I’m sure that the idea of “liking” posts when it was first introduced was also a wild concept. Before Facebook came out, if someone told me that they’re going to post a photo of their family and that I should “like” it as acknowledgement, I would think he or she is a little crazy. Why would I ever “like” a photo?! But that’s exactly what we all are accustomed to doing these days. I’m hoping the same will be true for Maya.
Even if Maya doesn’t blow up, I think there are so many ways to pivot into the right product-market fit. The most logical pivot that we’ve thought of so far is pivoting towards charities. Imagine that The Red Cross or United Way could put up posts about specific causes you’d like to support, and with the click of a button you could donate a few cents (or dollars) to a particular cause? Hopefully you’re slightly more convinced now of the viability of Maya. That’s why I’m working with my friend and business school classmate, Vishal Banerjee, to make Maya a reality.
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