For the second post about Entrepreneurship in Palestine, I want to talk about ideas. I think this is where the real problems are, whether it’s creating, sharing or evolving ideas, this is one area where we are very far behind in Palestine and I think a lot of work needs to be done in this area.
Creating ideas: We seem to be obsessed with the notion that the great big million-dollar idea will magically fall down from the heavens and pop in our brain and we’ll be set. We do think of ideas, but I don’t believe that we suddenly get the idea, I feel it’s more of a process and something that we need to train ourselves on. What’s a good idea for a startup? An idea that solves a problem for enough people who are will to pay money for it. If there’s no pain, no one will pay you to solve their non-problem. It has to improve something in their lives, it could let them save time, money, do things more effortlessly, but for there to be opportunity, there should be a problem.
We need to train ourselves in thinking of problems all around us, which we see in our everyday lives, What are the things that bug us? What is something we wish we had? I was waiting at the doctor’s clinic a while back and was waiting for my number to come. I was holding number 52 and the number on the board was 46. After waiting for a while, I noticed that the counter had not moved. I decided to go and run some errands and come back. I came back later than I expected (maybe after an hour) and found that the number hadn’t changed. There was an emergency and they needed the doctor. I thought to myself, wouldn’t be an amazing app that would SMS/email/message people on their cell phones when the counter reached a certain number? People could go around, utilize their time and come back a few minutes before their number appears instead of sitting and waiting for hours on end. While this idea might not be perfect and I don’t think I’ll end up building an app for it, I think it’s the way of thinking that’s important. Think of one thing everyday that bothers you and how you would change it to make it faster or easier.
Defining a problem that is a general service might be easier. In Palestine, there is a huge lack of tech startups and I think mainly because people aren’t up-to-date on the latest technology advancements. How do you design the next wireless technology or develop a new file system if you aren’t on top of the latest technological advancements in your field? I’m not talking about rumors of what Google and Apple might be releasing in the near future, I’m talking about breakthrough university research. Once Google, Apple and others are working on it, you’re already too late. If you are interested in a particular area, read, read and read constantly. The last thing you want is to spend months building a prototype only to find that company x already came up with a similar idea, but better and they came out sooner with it.
Sharing ideas: For me, this is the biggest problem we face in Palestine. We’re afraid to share ideas, as if the idea alone makes us successful entrepreneurs. I was reading a blog post by Sami Shalabi, who notes ” First, if an idea can be easily copied by just a conversation then it is an indefensible idea. Second, actually executing on an idea is really hard work“. I totally agree with what Sami says. The idea alone is nice, but it’s not what distinguishes one entrepreneur from another, it’s the execution that does. If you can’t execute, you can create anything with value.
An essay written by Paul Graham of Y Combinator also talks about ideas. Paul was pointing to the fact that ideas alone aren’t worth anything and the proof is that we’ve never heard of anyone pay money just for an idea. I don’t think it’s ever happened where someone would say, I’ll give you an idea for a business and you’ll pay me for it. Hence, ideas alone are worth nothing. That is completely different from someone saying, I have a great idea, a qualified team and a solid plan on how I’m going to make money and I need you to invest in my startup. Here, you’re delivering an idea and proving how you will make a successful startup based on your idea, otherwise, you won’t get the funding you’re looking for.
My advice to all Palestinian entrepreneurs is: Share your ideas. Talk to people whose opinion you trust and get their feedback. Again, as I quoted Sami above, if it can be easily copied by just mentioning it, then you can’t defend it. Even if it was a secret and you were able to create it without talking to anyone about it, the moment people see it (when you bring it to market), it will copied before and launched before you know it. You don’t need to share the secrets of how you’re going to build the system and spill out all the technical details, but talk about the business in general. Will people use it? Will people buy it? Is it something they would use on a daily basis?
Evolving ideas: Another important reason to share ideas is to help them evolve. Get feedback, listen to what people are saying about your idea and think about their points of view. Just because you like it doesn’t mean others will. As a matter of fact, you’re probably a bit biased and feel it will succeed no matter what. What you think is important, but remember that others will by the ones using/paying for it. If they think it sucks or adds no value to them, then you’re going to have a big problem later on.
This is also another area Palestinian entrepreneurs get stuck. They set their sites on a goal and they aren’t willing to change it no matter what. That’s not what the entrepreneurial spirit should be. Fail fast, continue to get feedback and evaluate. If you see things aren’t going the way they should be, pivot on see how you can tweak your business to make it work. Startup ideas evolve everyday and your idea can too.
I think ideas are the main problem in the Palestinian entrepreneurship environment at the moment. We need to start thinking of really challenging and interesting ideas and not be afraid to share them with others.