NCy Weekly 2: Betting on your own success – How to think about the potential of an idea

(Note: This post was initially published as part of my newsletter. )

Hi, hope you had a great Sunday.

I just finished getting through the slump of a nice bbq and honestly. I was about to postpone writing this.

Today got here faster than I anticipated and apart from having a vague idea of what I was gonna write, it was pretty much a cloud of thoughts, spinning and twirling like a drunk circus acrobat. But, here I am, doing the thing. Because I know that at this point commitment is more important than the actual product/result.

That’s not to say I’m about to dump a bunch of junk on you, no. It means I’ve found the time to sit and prioritize this writing over other stuff. And surprisingly, the moment I made the decision, ideas started flowing and connecting.

This is all potential that I was about to throw out of the window: potential accountability towards who’s gonna read this, potential discipline for keeping up with the streak, and potential growth for the idea muscle.

What does “potential” mean?

Potential: possible when the necessary conditions exist

There’s the tough part, “when the necessary conditions exist”. Do we create and force those conditions to exist? What if we have no idea how or if it’s even possible?

I was listening to an episode of the “How I built this” podcast where the interviewer talks with the creator of Impossible Foods, the “alternative” meat company valued at nearly $4 billion today.

Pat Brown, the founder (who started the company when he was 60, after leaving his dream job!), says something that stood out:

You have to bet on your own success. If we are gonna be as successful as we intended, we have to make huge investments in production capacity a couple of years in advance that are predicated on the idea that our volume will be 10 times greater in a year and a half. And since our mission requires us to, on average, double in volume every year for the next 15 years, we are gonna have to be making that big bet on our success again and again and again.

Let that sink in for a moment. It’s crazy. This guy leaves his dream job as a scientist and researcher at 60 years old, to venture into… an idea.

This is not only super intimidating and potentially demanding of time and finances, but the guy also anchors it to a mission that forces him to think and invest BIG. Not once, but consistently.

Good ole Pat also says that “to be a scientist you almost have to be insanely optimistic because if you’re doing science that matters, you’re doing experiments you don’t know will work”.

Pat had a hunch of his idea’s potential. He didn’t have a clear vision. But his optimism helped him push forward.

Sometimes it’s our intuition, that hunch, that guides us. And we have to be good at following and trusting it.

Playing poker with your ideas

It’s like in a poker game. You have to be good at knowing the range of hands you can raise with (following your intuition and picking the idea), but it all depends on your position at the table (the market, the competition, and a shit ton of other variables). The further you are from the blinds (the initial bets), the more information you have to make your decisions. The more information you have, the easier it will be to live with your decision, even if it fails big time.

But Pat was the starter, the pioneer. He was definitely not in position! So he had to go with his intuition. He had to bet on his success and on his growth.

He talks about optimism, but I’m pretty sure he considered his odds of success pretty carefully too. Maybe what he doesn’t say in the interview is that his was an asymmetric bet. In other words, was the potential upside of the idea, 10x the downside?

I’m not sure and I’ll definitely dig deeper into his story, but something tells me this played a part in his decision to pursue Impossible Foods.

How do you bet on your success?

  • Prioritize input vs output: I like how David at Raptitude puts it, “No matter how hard you train, you can’t build much muscle out of Lucky Charms”. It’s true, more often than not especially with business ideas, curating the input – the quality of what you do – is more effective than fixating its quantity and on an outcome. Does what you’re doing today align with your vision or at least with the direction you want to go? If yes, you’re on the right path.
  • Know your odds and your position at the table: Out of all the possible things you could be doing, do you think this has the best chance of success? What’s your hunch? Now take a look at the factors you’re not in control of. Are they in your favour? This is probably going to be a scale, not a yes or no.
  • Go with asymmetric bets: When I started my affiliate site, I knew I was either going to build a fun, pretty profitable and not really time consuming site, or worst case, I’d learn something in the process. Whether about affiliate business, blogging, html or electric skateboards. That was my asymmetric bet. What’s the upside vs downside ratio for your idea? Would you be able to live with your decision if it failed miserably?

That’s it for today. One thing I have to get better at is definitely giving myself more time for writing and thinking. A whole day probably. If you have any tips to share, let me know!

I’m glad I’ve put down my thoughts on this topic. The more I think about writing and about this newsletter, the more I create themes in my head every week. This week the theme was “bets” and coincidentally most of the stuff I read or listened to involved betting of some kind. It’s a good way of focusing and narrowing down on ideas.

I didn’t want to go too deep here, but as I’m also learning poker which is super fascinating, I’ll probably write a longer article on the blog about this stuff, so stay tuned if it tickles your fancy.


This week’s top finds:

Written

Ideas aren’t cheap

  • A great article by Justin Jackson, closely relating to this newsletter’s topic. remember the old saying “Ideas are worthless, execution is everything”? Justin goes against the grain and argues that “Yes, how you execute is a part of that, but the idea itself sets your ceiling for success.” Very helpful if you have a ton of ideas and want to narrow down to the one with the highest potential.

Audio

How I built this – Impossible foods: Pat Brown

  • I couldn’t not link to this podcast episode. If what I mentioned in this issue intrigued you, you’ll find the whole thing a true treasure trove of ideas. And subscribe to the podcast, it’s awesome.

Video

Nowness

  • Apart from watching a ton of electric skateboard videos to keep up with the industry (and because they’re cool), I didn’t really stumble on something epic. Until today. Check out Nowness and their video series. Pick a topic you’re interested in and spend 5 or 7 minutes watching one of those short films. It’s like meditating but watching video.

Have an amazing week!

Chris