I’m not one of those people who set out to be an entrepreneur. I came up with the idea to create an app for finding and sharing great dishes at restaurants because I couldn’t find Okonomiyaki in San Francisco. At the time, I figured it would be a great side project. But the more I shared the idea, the more I realized that I could and should make it real. And in order to do so, I needed a team. And in order to build (and feed) a team, we were going to need some money. And in order to raise money, we needed to find investors… and thus, Foodspotting, the company was born and I somehow became an “entrepreneur.” But the ball would never have started rolling or kept rolling if I hadn’t shared the idea with everyone who would listen. So the most important pieces of advice I share with aspiring entrepreneurs — my sister included — are these:
1. Tell a great story
Be able to explain your idea in one sentence or less at a cocktail party. (Having a self-explanatory or at least curiosity-inducing name helps, hence Foodspotting and ProfilePasser!) Don’t waste time perfecting a 30-page business plan, instead focus on figuring out how to tell your story in 5 slides or less: The problem, the solution, how it works, how it’s different and how you’re going to make it happen. And visualize your idea — through sketches, prototypes, etc. — so you can get feedback at every step of the process. I’ve written a whole post about how to tell a great story here: http://500.co/2011/01/28/can-you-picture-that/
2. Share it with everyone who will listen
The value of sharing your idea far outweighs the risk that someone you’re talking to has nothing better to do AND the capacity to steal it. I shared the ideas behind Foodspotting at a conference and learned about Women 2.0 and Startup Weekend, where I first realized that ordinary people like me could even start startups. I shared the idea at a happy hour and met my cofounder Ted. I shared the idea at numerous events thereafter and met investors, team members and potential acquirers. Once your startup is out in the world, people will copy you anyway, so until then, share your idea with everyone who will listen!
3. Stick to your story
While your story should always be evolving, it’s critical as a founder to know your story and stick to it in the face of skepticism, trends and “next big things.” We ran into a lot of skeptics when pitching Foodspotting — people who thought the idea wasn’t big enough on its own. But what would happen was: One investor would say something like, “This isn’t big enough, you should make an app for spotting anything.” So we’d go back to the drawing board and adapt our pitch to say, “And someday, we’ll expand so people can spot anything!” And lo and behold, the next investor would be like, “Why aren’t you more focused? I think you should focus on food.” We’d have been better off with our first pitch! So don’t change your story to please people, whether it’s investors, users or potential acquirers.
If you stick to the story you truly believe in, you’ll find people who share your true vision — and that’s worth far more. In fact, that’s how we ultimately ended up selling Foodspotting to OpenTable, where our whole team is continuing to focus on helping people find great food: We talked to many potential acquirers along the way, but only one really shared our love of food and our vision for Foodspotting. Looking back at the other possible worlds, we’re glad we stuck to our story and found a great home for Foodspotting!
So… Sam, and everyone else out there, this is the most important advice I can share: Tell a great story. Share it with everyone who will listen. And stick to it! It’s hard to do, and scary—that fear that someone will steal your idea is always out there trying to hold you back. But Foodspotting would never have happened if I hadn’t shared the story far and wide, and so this is the most important advice I could start off this blog with.
Share. Share. And SHARE!