Are you picking a passion, or a mere interest?

I’ve been talking to an increased number of people now with regards to their startup ideas.

Will this work? What about this? Could you rank these five ideas?

You know what? It really depends on you. Are you passionate about one of these ideas? If you are, then even if any expert or investor tells you your idea sucks, you’ve got a good chance of proving them wrong. Isn’t this the story of so  many successful startups?

Passion fuels great execution. And execution is everything.

What is interesting is that one person’s multiple ideas can encompass a wide variety of areas. While it is quite probable that you are interested in all these ideas, it is quite improbable that you are passionate about all of them.

If you plan to be the driving force in a startup you are setting up, then you just have to pick a passion. Don’t give in to the temptation to pick an interest, no matter how convenient things are shaping up.


Interest does not scale. Mere interest will not propel you to persevere and sacrifice when the going gets really tough. Mere interest won’t make you finish whole books about the topic in 2-3 days. Passion will make you do so. Passion scales.

You don’t ever want to go on vacation from what you are passionate about.

I am interested in pizza, TV, video games, and coffee. I won’t read books about them though. I don’t scour for news about them, although I will read an article about them if I come across one. I won’t run a startup centered on them. Invest in startups centered on them? Sure. But be the driving force? I already know that won’t be a good idea.

I am passionate about startups, human resources, and basketball. I read books about these topics for leisure. I am subscribed to news feeds about them. I have been the driving force for a successful human resources-related startup until very recently, and now I’m busy setting up a startup incubator. If someone comes to me with a great startup idea about basketball, I can see allowing myself to lead that.

Passion is evident. When you ask a person about what she is passionate about, it will be difficult to make them stop. Eyes light up. Peripheral questions are easy to answer. I’ve seen shy introverts transform before my very eyes when their passion becomes the topic of conversation.

You would pursue a passion for free. 

So whether you are deliberating on seriously pursuing an idea, recruiting someone, or even looking for a new job, pick a passion.

Stop settling.

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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.


Start-bucks Coffee.

My first startup, STORM Consulting, started as an idea in 2005, I talked about it with around 10 people – all potential co-owners I targeted – mostly in Starbucks. I then narrowed the field down from ten to two people and began building the foundation of the firm with my two new partners.

A recent startup, StreamEngine, (site is still in beta) which is launching this January, started when I talked to potential partners – mostly in Starbucks (some in Seattle’s Best).

A chunk of my time now I’m currently using by  talking to different people regarding different ideas – all in coffee places and dining areas in the metro, 30-60 minutes each, mostly after hours.

You want to know where to start? Talk about it with someone. Get that idea of yours out of your head and into a conversation. To properly nurture ideas, they need to be out in the open, where they can grow, receive feedback, and get the attention they need. The more you talk about it, the more your idea will become real, more palpable. Energy is generated, momentum is generated – both critical elements in launching a startup.

Ideally, you are also using this process to recruit for potential partners. This is very critical, because once the incorporation is done – you essentially become married to your partners. Listen carefully: Who is excited about your idea? Who can help you take your idea further? Is this person DIFFERENT than you in key areas (ideas, skill set, network)? Is this person SAME as you in the key areas? (values, principles, work ethic)

So you want to start? Grab a cup with a friend tonight!

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We’re talking about tips on startup business ideas. This is part two, you can view part one here.


There are hardly any truly novel ideas anymore. That great idea you’ve always thought of? There’s a great chance someone out there has done it. Don’t fret, this is normal. In many cases, this actually means your idea has a market. Now, look deeper. Find out about how your competitor is doing it. How could you make the idea more remarkable?  What other gaps aren’t being met?

Two years ago, I thought about the idea of starting an executive search firm, partly because STORM, our HR technology firm, was always declining when we were asked by our clients if we did headhunting. A longtime HR practitioner, I employed headhunters before and knew it was a crowded market. At the same time, I thought it would be an interesting prospect to introduce something remarkable to an industry which hasn’t really changed much in decades. I spent an entire year gathering data about the industry, trying to identify a strategic gap. The Starbucks near our office made a fortune off of me interviewing over 50 headhunters, trying to find out more and more about this industry I was very much exposed already to as a client. We finally launched this year, armed with a unique strategy. Its been working so far, thankfully. (truthfully, I think waiting a year was too long, there is a point where research becomes the enemy)


When we launched STORM in 2006, my attitude then was to “protect my turf,” hence I never talked about new ideas to anyone, paranoid they might get stolen. I was in “stealth” mode. I realize now that that was a complete waste of time. First, no one was out to steal my idea. Check out this article.

Talk about your ideas with people whose opinion you value. Seek out experts and talk to them. Tell them about your plans. The feedback you will collect will be invaluable. And no, even if you blare your idea out into a microphone in the middle of SM Megamall, no one will steal your idea. Trust me. Now stop being paranoid and get feedback. Feedback will perfect your idea, and will likely even lead you to better ideas. Now, I have regular coffee meetings with a few people per quarter, with the goal of just bouncing ideas around – I bounce ideas around with fellow entrepreneurs, and I bounce ideas around with vertical experts.


I think this is what Steve Jobs does best. Apart from the Apple 1, which was the first personal computer, none of his other products were firsts. The iPod wasn’t the first portable player. Microsoft actually had tablets almost a full decade before Apple came out with the iPad. The i-phone certainly wasn’t the first smartphone. Each of these Apple-made, market leading gadgets were augmented copies of their originals.

How could you make an existing product/service better? How could that innovation they use in one industry benefit yours? What global idea could be done better locally? Imagine and improve.


If you talk to VC’s and experienced investors, they will tell you that they invest in the team first, not the idea. In fact, be prepared for the likely possibility that as you develop your startup, your idea winds up in the waste basket, dethroned by a better one. Paypal started out as a Palm Pilot accessory. Groupon started out as a mere side project. It’s really how you will continuously iterate and improve on your idea that will determine your success as a startup. If there’s one thing that’s suicide for a startup, its idleness. Once you think of an idea, you almost immediately have to think of ways on how you can destroy it and build a better one.

There you have it, some of my suggestions on the startup idea process. Do remember that ideas, and the idea formulation process, can often get seductive. I know some friends who have a “good enough” idea on their hands, but don’t want to jump in because the idea isn’t “perfect” yet. Wasted time. Select an idea AS FAST AS YOU CAN, then find a WAY TO TRY IT OUT as fast as you can. The sooner you can gauge as to whether your idea is a good one or not, the faster it is that you can progress, or move on to a better idea.


Ok, while ideas ARE overrated, they are still important. Let’s talk about the process of evaluating, and ultimately choosing, which startup idea to commit to. This will be a long one, so I will cut it up into 2-3 posts. Remember, the criteria I will be using here will be for startups, not necessarily for lifestyle or small businesses. For a small business, sometimes all it takes is a good franchise and a good location. It’s a little more complicated for a startup with big dreams.

Let’s start with some career advice cliche.

1.Go after a passion

It’s cliche for a reason: its extremely important. A lot of entrepreneurs get into the game motivated by money, and that is fine. But it is only a deeper passion for the craft that will make your product truly remarkable. It is also passion that will help you stay in the game when the lean times come.

I immediately gobbled up Isaacsons’s Steve Jobs biography the minute it came out. What you get immediately is that Jobs wasn’t in it for just the money. I remember the part of the book where engineers were puzzled at Jobs’ insistence on getting the colors and design right for parts deep inside the computer they were building – parts the consumer would never even see. The whole book – and the whole history of Apple – is really about Steve’s overwhelming passion for the product, passion you could feel when you use Apple products.

What product can you talk about all day? What topic can you read dozens and dozens of books on?

What doesn’t feel like work?

(quick add: if you have a partner or 3, then consider common passions)

2. Consider Tech

Year after year, I get to interview fresh graduates coming out of the Universities. One thing I love asking business majors is what happens in their school’s usual “business simulation activity.” I ask the interviewee to try to remember ALL the concepts generated. I get the same sad company concept list year after year (this year not an exception) – almost 100% of groups do a retail concept, where a “new” food type or a new bag or a new snack is generated. Worse, schools usually hold a tiangge or ask students to put up a stall in Greenhills, thereby virtually guaranteeing that only retail concepts are created. The last 15 years, how many of these retail concepts have actually become household names? One? None?

If you want to make it big in retail, you need gobbles of money. Its a huge risk. With inventory. Oh, and your competitors are named Procter and Gamble, Unilever, and Universal Robina.

Didn’t people get the memo? That the Google algorithm was done in a garage? Didn’t people watch The Social Network? Tech is the one area where the playing field has been leveled, where innovation has become a commodity. Before, creating a tech product meant spending millions buying huge expensive servers and software licenses. Now you can talk to your programmer buddy and essentially create one basically for free. It’s an arena where tiny Chikka in the Philippines can build the world’s first mobile instant messenger and make a difference. There is NO reason why the next great tech company can’t come from the Philippines.

Consider tech.

If you are passionate with something else, you can think about how you can use tech to augment your product towards our new Star Trek era. Passionate about T-shirts? Maybe you can do something like this. How about food? Maybe you can build a local Yelp.

So what are you waiting for? Run and get your tech partner! That’s what I did back in ’06.

(Oh, and if there any school administrators/teachers around there who can influence curriculum – why not combine people from different majors when you do your business simulation activity? Think of what can happen if the business guys team up with the computer guys and the design guys. It will be amazing AND will simulate real life in a much better way.)  

3. Solve a Domain Problem

I was lucky enough to get a press pass and witness the first night of Startup Weekend when it was held in Fort a few weeks back. Great event. There were dozens of ideas, usually revolving around trends such as  location technology, new social networks, and online event aggregators. My problem with these ideas is this: how many people around the world are working on these ideas? Hundreds? Thousands?

My other problem is this: a lot of these ideas are features, not products. If Facebook, which everyone uses, decides to make your company idea in to a feature, then say goodbye to your firm. This problem is now what Foursquare is now facing.

My suggestion is you go zig when everyone else is zagging.

One practical way to do this is to tackle domain problems. If everyone else is busy building another Facebook (good luck with that),  why don’t you talk to 10-year veterans of certain domains. Talk to a great doctor. Ask him about the problems in that industry. Talk to a supply chain director. Talk to a high school principal. Heck, you might be one of these people. These are the people who have the needed experience to define problems very well – and the intuition to craft great potential solutions.

Talk to them about the sticky problems they face. Can creating a particular service help? Can technology help?

I tell you, you will be amazed at how much opportunity is actually available. Before doubt sets in, let me tell you now, you can make a difference.

More to come.

PS: If you are a “business” guy like me, you can form a great team already by partnering with a tech guy and a domain guy. Can’t wait to tackle forming teams!

Part II here!

Ideas Are Overrated

A friend of mine who read the blog told me early today, “Okay, I’m sufficiently inspired, now put something concrete please! Tell me how I can start!”

So where do we begin?

The popular answer is that it starts with the idea. This explains why so many people have the excuse, “I’d start, but I still don’t have that killer idea.”

Let me tell you a story.

Around a year and a half ago, I was really inspired to start a UX (user experience) Consulting firm, seeing that more and more firms needed this service and that there wasn’t any one firm catering to this need. So I poured myself in getting to know as much about UX as I can, and then I started talking to people who might be interested in helping me put it up. I found two young people. We started meeting in Kenny Rogers Katipunan, and we started setting it up excitedly. But then there were some problems we encountered: we felt the market might not have been too lucrative nor too ready for the concept. Considering the background of the partners, the idea then pivoted into a front-end design firm instead of a UX firm. A few months after, another set of circumstances necessitated another pivot – the decision was to focus and do mobile sites for brands. Soon after, it was decided that it would be wise for the team to join forces with another startup group. Streamengine was then created. What do we do in Streamengine? Video production.

“The big idea” is easily the most overrated aspect of startups. They are a dime a dozen. Streamengine all started with an inspiration and then a decision – I want to do something, I WILL do something. That inspiration of mine then latched onto the first “big idea” I thought of – UX. The idea failed. If my basis for starting were the idea, I would’ve stopped altogether, right? But the idea wasn’t my anchor,so I instead re-directed my passions towards the next “big idea.” When that failed?  Onto its next iteration.

decided I had wanted to do another startup, and these failed ideas weren’t going to stop me from putting one up.

There is a lot of logic as to why I began with “encouragement” posts. Since it all begins with a decision, my great hope is that you get inspired to make one. If you do make one, I can guarantee that the going will then get tough and inspiration will fade. Then, only your decision will remain to hold on to and pull you through.

So you want something concrete to start with?

What about a concrete decision to start?