Pick your startup idea using the 3 circles

A long time ago, I read the bestselling book by Jim Collins, a book which a lot of you are probably familiar with, Good to Great.

I have forgotten everything about the book except his 3 circles framework. Jim illustrates that for good companies to become great, they have to exist in the “sweet spot” of 3 overlapping circles. While the book was really made for large corporations, and used data mainly from large corporations, I realized how applicable the “3-circle” framework is for startups. I use this framework extensively in startup product development.

My simplified version of the framework looks like this:

So let’s say you’re deliberating on what startup idea you’d like to pursue, and you have a few ideas you’re evaluating. This framework then becomes extremely useful. Each of the elements are crucial.

Some scenarios:

1) You have an idea you are passionate about, and can do it brilliantly, but people probably won’t pay you to do it.

Then this is simply a hobby, not a business. I could be the very best in the world in naming every G.I. Joe character who ever existed and recite their complete profiles, but the likelihood of me getting compensated for this skill might not be so hot.

Here’s the interesting thing here though: because of the internet, you can now easily find people with similar passions as you have. If you can build a related skill-set to world-class levels – the internet makes it so much easier to find a market. So say you’re the world’s best in restoring action figures, there’s a better chance of finding a market now than there was pre-internet.

2) You can pursue something you are passionate about and people will pay you to do, but you aren’t so good at it.

Then at some point your startup will fail, because consumers don’t like settling. This is still a pretty good spot to be in though, because your objective becomes clear – you have to build competence.

3) You can also choose to work on something which you are really good at, and people will pay you for it.

If you leave your corporate job and form your startup under these circumstances, then this is really jumping from the fire into the frying pan. This is really the corporate assembly line all over again. It’s actually a bit worse, because it will be harder to extricate yourself from the situation. So while this is tempting, it’s a recipe for frustration and zombification. Don’t.

One important thing to consider is that startups are typically composed of more than one founder. So it becomes more interesting (and fun) to tackle these questions.

What are we passionate about? What will people pay us to do? What are we collectively awesome at?

Time for that coffee meeting.

6 thoughts on “Pick your startup idea using the 3 circles

Leave a Reply to Peter Cauton Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s