“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” -Steve Jobs.
It’s Tuesday morning. The Seattle skyline is painted a beautiful shade of grey, and I am getting my caffeine fix at Moore Café with Ben Wahl, a former senior manager at Apple, and Elliott Rader, a former Googler.
Both left killer tech careers to focus full-time on the Gluten Free Bar company they co-founded with Elliot’s brother, Marshall. Their story is impressive: They went from crushing cranberries and almonds into a sticky paste on a kitchen counter without knowing anything about food production, regulations and retail, to launching a company with manufacturing facilities, an ever-growing national distribution network, thousands of buyers (including Whole Foods).
It wasn’t an easy path but principally it was very simple: They dared to explore an idea. They dared to breathe life into it. And with that, they have joined greatest creative renaissance since The Renaissance.
From Kickstarter to Quirky and Angel List, entrepreneurs are changing the world like never before. According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity (2012), 514,000 new businesses started in 2012 in the United States, which is without a doubt an impressive number.
I suspect that this study only covers structured business creation and overlooks the contagious movement of every day people exploring their ideas all over the globe, an explosion of innovation.
Don’t take it from me, even Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, posted on his blog recently that “2014 will be a year of many big ideas, because it will be the year of the entrepreneur.”
Exploring ideas is practically free, so why so few try it?
It’s understandable that normal life seems to get in the way, especially if you have a family and a demanding job that requires your attention.
I started three companies out of an idea exploration with a family, two dogs, two mortgages and a job, and it was hard. But considering that it’s easier than ever to start things today, I couldn’t help myself.
Compute costs are about 100 times cheaper compared to 15 years ago and with cloud computing, 3D printers, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, free online tools, professional networks, and endless Web-services, you can get up and running pretty fast.
Consider the following: the only thing you really can’t afford is not time or money, but not living your life to its full potential. Many people talk about their great ideas and their big plans for the future. Somehow, though, the future never seems to come.
Form an addicting habit of exploration
While working on my first idea of building a better iPhone battery case, I was employed by Microsoft, in a highly stressful and demanding environment. But I kept on exploring because I was motivated to see my ideas come to life.
Little by little, I developed a habit. Like a kid, enjoy the process more than the adult-conditioned outcome expectation.
1. Identify a problem or an idea you want to explore
If you’re not an expert in the subject matter, research and read until you reach a basic level of fluency. There are no rules. You can learn anything.
2. Set some time and money aside to play with
Even as low as just 1 percent of your monthly income will help you start.
Four hours per week, broken into two hours of exploring your ideas on nights and weekends, adds up to two full work days per month.
3. Meet new people
Attend a MeetUp event, stalk people on LinkedIn and Facebook, ask friends to recommend friends. You can always use a bigger network, especially when you try new things.
Find at least one more like-minded person to keep you motivated and inspired.
4. Be relentless
Never stop, never give up, its all about persistence.
I started an exploration that led me to build a company the week my first child was born and never stopped or slowed down no matter how many diapers needed to be changed. Stop at nothing.
5. Leave your logic and commons sense behind
The more you think, the worst it gets. Stop being “rational” or worst, “practical.” Just explore and understand that you can’t foresee the outcome until you are fully engaged.
Last words of encouragement from another fellow Seattleite who dared to explore a passion and wants to inspire others to do the same, the creator of Moments, Marc Barros:
“Starting is the hardest part. The first step, the first idea, or even the first date. And yet taking one small step at a time is how you get there. Even if your vision far exceeds your ability to deliver on it today, don’t worry about it. Greatness is never an overnight success. It is always a journey woven with an unlimited number of experiences that contributed o where you end up.”
Marc’s exploration is paying off, big time. His Moments project on Kickstarter raised over $300K with a few more days to go. His original goal was $50,000.
We are living in the greatest creative renaissance since The Renaissance.