Generating Strong Start-up Ideas
Girl Scout alum Christina Bechhold Russ is living every entrepreneur’s dream. Today the former banker is based in London, where she runs the European arm of Samsung NEXT, a firm focused on early stage technology investments. That means she gets to decide which new tech-focused business ideas Samsung throws its weight behind.
“A big company like Samsung can provide the kind of massive global platform that they can leverage in a lot of exciting ways,” she explains.
Christina also co-founded Empire Angels, a collective of millennials who invest in the early stage ventures of young entrepreneurs.
So what has she learned from evaluating the hundreds of ideas that come across her desk? A lot! Here are her thoughts on how to determine whether your start-up idea is worth the investment.
1. Start by asking the right questions.
“I would ask, ‘Why this thing?” she says. “Being an entrepreneur is really hard—I sometimes think it’s not a career path that any rational person would choose! I am always fascinated by ‘Why this idea?’ and ‘Why now?’”
2. Make sure you have the right answers.
According to Christina, this is a question that has both right and wrong answers.
“The right answers are: ‘I have a personal experience with this challenge and as a result of that, I have an idea for how to make it better for people in the world.’ Or to say that you observed a problem and came up with a solution,” Christina explains.
“The wrong answer is that you think it will make you a lot of money, or that you saw a big market opportunity that you want to explore. You need to be intrinsically motivated by a passion that can see you through the difficult times.”
3. Get the details on paper.
“You can sit and fill out a business model canvas,” Christina says. “What you don’t need to do is [draw up] a business plan—that’s more of an academic exercise. That level of detail is more appropriate for mature businesses where there is a lot of known data. If you just have an idea and you’re trying to start something, you need to create a straw-man [proposal] and then take it out in the world and start adding data to it.”
4. Look for feedback.
“One of my college professors said, ‘Your idea has legs if you can find one hundred people who would be willing to pay for it,’” Christina says. “You need to validate in the market that there are enough people who want what you’re offering. You may need prototypes, or you may just need to draw up a concept and talk people through it.”
“Remember,” she adds, “not all opinions are created equal. Make sure the people you are talking to are your target-market customers or that they are potential partners.”
5. Make any necessary changes.
“You may need to iterate on what the issues are—you may uncover that there is a totally different pain point that is more interesting and more prevalent among your target market,” she says.
“The vast majority of start-ups just have a business model innovation—they’re taking something that exists and delivering it in a new way. So look at whether it is the efficiency of the delivery model that makes your business idea unique.”
6. Start small and simple.
“Start local,” she advises. “Test if your assumptions around how your business can operate and the demand are true.
7. Lean into your humility and self-awareness.
“We live in an age of entitlement where people believe that every idea is valuable and has merit,” Christina says. “Unfortunately, people are easily offended when you push back on their assumptions, and you have to have a lot of humility and coachability so you can know the things you don’t know and get the help you need to be successful.”
“Every partner or advisor you want support from is going to be looking for humility. People want to know that you can quickly recognize your and your company’s weaknesses, and adapt in a way that can compensate for those, whether that means hiring someone that can fill a void in your personal weakness or whether there’s something about the business model that just doesn’t work.”
8. Recognize that you can’t do it alone.
“You can’t to do everything yourself,” she explains. “Surround yourself with people who can make you better, whether that’s finding a co-founder that can share the burden or thinking about who can mentor and support you.”
“Get the best possible people on your side. Even if you don’t have any money, you can always find people who are happy to share their opinions for free. In the end, the best entrepreneurs are willing not only to ask for help, but also to ask in the moments that matter most.”