Hold Onto Those Bad Ideas!

By April 10, 2012 No Comments

Ideas come to me all the time.  I immediately strike some down as bad, while others take a while (and maybe input from others) to be culled out.  Only a small fraction of those ideas ever survive the cut.  I assume the same holds true for you.  What happens to those you don’t pursue?  A chance stumbling across a piece of my past made me take a new look at the value of those thoughts.

Seventeen years ago today, Spring Internet World ’95 marked the commercial Internet’s coming out party, where the business world took charge.  With over 27,000 attendees and 192 companies exhibiting, the event (at four times the previous year’s size) foreshadowed the Internet’s explosive growth.

A few weeks ago, I found presentations from Spring Internet World ’95, and spent some time with them, reminiscing a bit about that particularly exciting time in my career.  One presentation caught my attention:  Neil Randall’s “The Business of the Internet: Should Businesses Care About the World Wide Web?”  Neil asked “Can you sell enough things and are people going to buy the things over the Web that you have to offer?”  Looking back, it may seem a silly question, but in 1995, it was to the point.

During his talk, Neil tossed out several examples of products that you shouldn’t bother trying to sell on the Internet.  I’m sure the audience fully agreed.  Some of those examples:

  • Shoes. (It’s an impulse purchase; you can’t expect people to purchase shoes on the Internet!)
  • Pizza/Fast Food. (How can it make sense to order online when you can just pick up a phone?)
  • Cars. (After all, test drives are half the fun!)
  • Conferences. (A conference via the Internet? No. It requires interaction!)

He said to be sure to focus on the types of products and services that people were “willing to buy, to engage in, to indulge in over the Web”.  That message was 100% spot-on.  And in 1995, the market wasn’t there for the products in those examples.

Yet you could build a highly successful business model around each of those categories now.  Not only could you – it’s already been done.

  • Zappos, the online shoe seller, had $1 billion in gross sales last year.
  • At Callis, we often place our lunch order online – it allows us to save favorite sandwiches and makes quick work of placing a group order.
  • From AutoTrader to dealer lots, almost every car dealer provides a way to shop for cars online – and many if not most have Internet sales specialists.
  • Cisco’s WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Google+ Hangouts all use technology advances to facilitate the interaction that Neil Randall feared would be missing from online conferences.

These seemingly bad ideas weren’t so bad after all; they were great ideas whose time hadn’t come.  The same thing happens on a smaller scale here at Callis and in my home life.  I regularly dismiss ideas based on the current reality.

I intend to make a conscious effort to archive some of the ideas that didn’t work so that I’ve got them to look back on in the future.  My goal isn’t to hang on to bad ideas, but to allow an opportunity for an idea to meet its perfect time.  Which of your recently-thrown out ideas will deserve a second look in the future?  How will you keep track of them so you’ll have that chance?

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