When we talk about startup ideas and their potential to become strong tech companies, the founders play a big role. What are their backgrounds and skills? What is their industry expertise and the so-called “founder-idea fit”?
This is the third part of Icebreaker’s Is my idea any f#%!ing good guide. In this post, we will focus on founder-idea fit. This post will give you great insight as of its own piece, but you can also read parts one and two. Or listen them on Soundcloud, it takes around ten minutes.
The Founder-Idea Fit
The founder-idea fit is a combination of two things; knowledge of the problem and the abilities to solve it. In the best cases – that are actually quite rare – people have a deep understanding of the problem and advanced skills to solve the problem. In worse cases – this includes a majority of the cases that we see – the knowledge of the problem is quite limited and the skills to solve it are not that strong, either.
Deep understanding of the problem often comes from years and years of industry experience that can be built via work, hobbies or side projects. When you are building on top of your own industry expertise and solving a problem on a field you know well, your chances to succeed look much better: you already have a professional network, links to potential clients and a deep understanding of your customers' needs.
Skills to solve the problem don’t develop overnight, either. Advanced skills mean thousands or tens of thousands of hours of experience around a certain technology, for example. During your path to entrepreneurship, you will, of course, develop both your problem understanding and skills to solve it further.
It goes without saying that a solo founder should search for co-founders with a complimentary background also from the perspective of founder-idea fit. If you as a founder have a deep understanding of the problem but lack the skills to solve it, find someone who has the skills. If you, on the other hand, have great skills to solve a problem but your knowledge of the problem isn’t that deep, search for someone who can help you out.
Case Osgenic: deep problem knowledge, limited skills
Arne Schlenzka was a surgery resident who handed in his scalpels for VR gear after participating in the Icebreaker Pre-founder Project in 2017. He founded Osgenic, a company developing a VR-based simulator for surgeons to improve patient safety. Nowadays surgeons don't really have the possibility to practice their surgeries with their own hands, which leads to a situation where less experienced surgeons actually, to aggravate a bit, practice with their patients. Osgenic wants to change this.
When looking at founder-idea fit, Osgenic ticked a lot of boxes: the founder, Arne Schlenzka, had great industry experience and he was solving a problem he had faced in his job as a surgeon. He had a good understanding of what's crucial when building a simulator for surgeons since he had been using the scalpel himself – and he also knew who would be able to make the purchase decisions.
On their way forward, deep understanding of the problem has actually been crucial: not many VR startups have a surgeon on board to develop a tool for surgeons.
There was one problem, though: Arne as a sole founder had very little understanding of VR, and because of that, very limited skills to solve the problem. He didn’t actually know if the VR technology was developed enough to create a hyper-realistic simulator he believed was necessary. When we talk about founder-idea-fit, both the problem knowledge and the skills to solve the problem matter – so to solve this dilemma, Arne had to do some serious recruiting.
We will talk more about searching for co-founders and team building in parts five and six of this series.
Developing your business idea
To put it shortly, you don’t have to have all the pieces in place when you start. Deep problem understanding or advanced skills alone are a great starting point for a company – you don’t have to have both in the idea phase.
You should be able to be able to take a critical and somewhat objective look at your industry expertise and skillset. It’s quite hard. Many people are way too certain of their own idea or they’re on the other end and way too self-critical. But since strong ideas are always tightly linked to their founders’ background, skills, passion and many other features, you should be able to train the skills of self-reflection and introspection.
The best way to get better at this is to talk about your idea, problem, and solution with other people and hear what they think. Critical feedback is a gift, so consider talking to people who you trust will be honest with you.