Ideas, is this a good one?

Anyone out there have a surefire way to find amazing ideas? It’s not easy. I often wonder how people figure out to work on an idea. Often it’ll be many years before there is a payoff.

Autonomous vehicles is a good example. The first DARPA challenge for AVs was in 2005. I still remember vividly seeing the trucks barely being able to move. It was funny how bad they were.

I should’ve started working on AV technology right then and there. I was younger. I don’t think I appreciate the potential for AVs. But if I would’ve started in 2005 we probably would’ve run out of money. Technology (sensors, processors, machine learning models) wasn’t far enough along then.

Timing is everything. So when should have I started. Google started in 2009. That’s four years after the first DARPA challenge. Google also has deep pockets. They can sustain years of living in the trough before the rest of the world catches up.

But then Cruise Automation, acquired by GM in 2016 for $600 million to $1 billion, started in 2013. That’s 4 years after Google and 8 years after the DARPA challenge.

Many people by then would’ve assumed by 2013 that it was too late to start an AV company. Google had it locked up. That’s obviously very far from the truth.

That’s the beauty of these large industries is that there is room for many companies. I also try to see what looks like a joke now but could come to change an industry.

One idea that’s early and interesting is robotic surgery. Google and J&J have started Verb. And of course there are others like Intuitive. But I still feel that industry is wide open. It could bring surgery to billions in developing countries over the coming decades.

I don’t have a crystal ball what to look for in an industry. Here’s what I think about. Is the problem actually solved? Will the industry and companies be looking for multiple tech solutions? For AVs, the car companies aren’t going to just let Google have this tech and roll over. They will fight and want their own tech. That’s many potential funders/acquirers.

Can you market it in a different way? Cruise started as a AV kit to modify existing cars. They changed to a more controlled environment later but they started with a different focus.

Will it change lives? This isn’t essential but it helps me get through the long days and nights of a startup. Having a mission doesn’t hurt.

Can you recruit a team to make something special? This is the hardest part. You need to find and attract the talent. They need to believe in you.

Both Cruise and another AV company, Nutonomy, both founded in 2013 were built by founders with the technical chops. Karl Iagnemma, who I interviewed on my Flyover Labs podcast, had been working on related research for years. Then at some point they were like, wait we should started an AV company. We have all the skills. It’s easiest to recruit yourself for technical talent. They sold to Aptiv for $400 million.

I’ll keep talking about what I look for with new ideas. I’ve never had a homerun for a company. I’ve learned a lot of things that don’t work. Timing is everything (did I say this before) 🙂

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