Conceiving an idea is a magical process – and to each his own. Sometimes, like a wisp of smoke – it fades. Other times, it doesn’t. Maybe you write it down in your Moleskine and you look back at it for days, or weeks… then you start losing sleep, and you just can’t shake it. At this point, it makes sense in your head (sort of), and you now need to develop an experiment to see if others agree. Testing the idea in the real world is what separates the cream from the crop. It’s uncomfortable and this is where a fair number of people skid to a halt when it comes to developing a business.
There’s a lot of hype about the lean startup movement, as coined by Eric Ries, and for good reason. It works. So let’s assume a couple of things – you have an idea, you’re able to articulate it in fairly simple terms and you want to test if there’s a need; validation.
What I’m about to introduce to you next is an entrepreneurial ecosystem that goes by the name of Start Garden. They’re a new breed of VC fund – perhaps the next Y-combinator or TechStars – but at such a young age, its too early to tell. It’s like Quirky except not so saturated; and your idea doesn’t necessarily have to be consumer-product-based. Their key differentiator: Start Garden invests in 2 ideas, every week. This is where you can get feedback, validation AND funding by Thursday, at noon.
So how does it work?
You submit to their website through a profile-like application. Throw a few pictures up… write some descriptions. Form personal experience, I’d suggest you take a few days to iron out your thoughts – write a 1st iteration, sleep on it; then wash, rinse, repeat. Every week, all kinds of ideas are submitted from around the country and each Thursday: Two ideas are selected for a $5,000 check each, one by the Start Garden team and one by public endorsement. After that, the slate is wiped clean and you’re free to submit multiple times. In fact, I submitted 3 weeks straight without getting funding, submitted another idea, and then submitted another idea before we snagged success. “Patience is a virtue, but persistence to the point of success is a blessing” – Peter’s Law #14.
When you get the $5k check you are committed to a couple of things 1) that you’ll do something interesting within a 60-90 period and 2) that you’ll show up after that 60-90 days and publicly present what it is you’ve done. That’s it. There is no equity at stake at this level and no commitment to pay that five grand back if you’re not funded at a higher level.
I remember at the very first public event Start Garden hosted, CEO and founder – Rick DeVos said “You could spent the entire $5,000 on a pallet of Doritos and a PlayStation if you wanted… but obviously you’ll burn every bridge you’re trying to build”.
SO; at 20-something …with your delusional fantasies of an over-night billion dollar company (we all have them…), you might ask:
Why is $5,000 going to help me when I need millions to start my company?
I’ll tell you why, because this is what I once though too. What that $5k does is initiate the process of iterating, validating and moving forward. When it comes to investments, someone has to be the first and tell you to give it a whirl. In fact, when it comes to any kind of movement, someone has to be the first follower; that’s who Start Garden is. Beyond the money, Start Garden provides a healthy environment to actually do what you would need to do when starting a business. In those 60-90 days, it is up to you to gain traction however you can. The public update forces you to report back what you found and show people what you’ve done within a time and resource constraint. This is an important framework to leverage for starting a company! It then allows you to then make 1 of 3 decisions: drop the idea, pivot on the idea, or move full speed ahead.
So get your idea out there! Submit it online to Start Garden and start finding out today whether it’s worth putting a much greater amount of effort in.
Mechanical engineer, thinker, dreamer and entrepreneur; Brian Falther is the 24 year old co-founder of Future Tech Farm. @BrianFalther