Our Startup Quest to Generate 1 Million Ideas in One Year

It was the biggest goal of my life. But I also wanted to start small. Here's how I reconciled it...



"Holy shit."

I'd been ticking through a hundred things that needed done to get ready to launch. 

It seemed like there was too much to do and everything was taking too long. There were too many variables and too many unknowns to count. 

But then again maybe not. Or maybe they didn't matter as much as I figured.

Without a doubt, starting is daunting.  

That's basically what it means: choosing to be daunted

But if you're launching something and you haven't felt completely overwhelmed and told yourself the whole thing is crazy, you're not aiming high enough. 

To get where you want to be, you have to start. That's it. 

I'm helping generate a million ideas, so every day I don't start hurts.


To help others starting and growing companies,  launching side projects, or working to design new methods of innovation, I'll be writing about just about every detail of this quest to a million ideas—the product details, growth tactics, stresses, big wins, wrong turns, failures, successes.

I figure let's open the whole thing up :)

This scares the hell out of me. 


But here goes...



Where are we starting?

We’re launching tomorrow with a little over 400 users. 

These people are incredible.

They’re artists from Paris, tech folks from San Francisco, designers in Seattle, entrepreneurs from India, and all sorts of other brilliant people doing interesting things.

They’re probably a lot like you.

They’re people I admire — people whose brains and bodies of work are a sight to see. I can only imagine what they’ll come up with when they push their thinking to new places.

We’re launching tomorrow with a tool that’s simple and basic—it does the trick.


Our users get a simple prompt and an embedded form in their inbox. They do their best to come up with a recommended number of ideas on that day's topic - like "New Uses for Abandoned City Lots" - and submit them from right inside the email. 

Each person immediately receives their list of ideas to share with friends, send off to people they want to impress, or simply collect for future development. 

At night, we send a roundup of the ideas that struck us the most and tease at the next day's prompt to give our brains a head start.  This also allows for connections to begin to develop, say, between a social entrepreneur and an iOS developer. Or a product designer and an investor.

Soon we'll move into a more full-fledged community structure, but right now we're going with this.

It's a long way from what's possible and I'm ok with that. 

I say that now, but I’ll probably throw up tomorrow.  



Watch out for everything

Early stage entrepreneurs wage a constant battle between having and trying to have things figured out.

To give you a sense of what I mean, here’s a peak at just a small collection of things I’m thinking about on the eve of our initial launch and will be paying close attention to in the coming days:

What's resonating? What isn't?

How are different growth techniques working?

What’s the best allocation of my time?

Who can I bring onboard?

How many average daily users in relation to overall users?

What are the next steps after the things-that-don’t-scale stage?

How quickly can I turn learnings into action?

Are people using it for reasons I didn't expect?

Some of these topics are user-related, others are personal. Some are future-facing, and others are immediate. Trust me, there are many more.

There's a natural inflection point at this stage for founders: 

The majority of your questions can only be answered by observing actual usage. 

And so tomorrow we launch.



Why 1 million ideas?

Admittedly, it seems ideas aren't usually the problem. 

Most of us are swimming in ideas. 

It’s the whole making it a reality part that kills us. Execution where we so often come up short. 

As Julie Zhuo, product design director for Facebook, puts it:

Ideas are like candy—colorful, fun, easy to indulge in.
The hard part—the part that really matters—is the follow-through.

The truth we all live with is that anybody can propose Uber for X or a platform for Y, but that not everyone can pull it off. 

So why not build something that helps people execute?

Because I think our whole approach to ideas is about to change.

For all of our talk of continuous learning and deployment, we still cling tight to the flawed belief that innovation is the result of a single, brilliant idea.

But that's not the way it works.

Innovation isn't one idea at the beginning, followed by nothing but hard work afterwards.  


Execution is the result of a series of ideas for every step of the way. We need to generate creative and promising ideas all the way down the line.

An idea, a test, a new idea. Repeat. 

Over and over and over. 

You're not done after your one good idea.


Solving a social issue, designing a new product, and growing a company all require trying out way more ideas than you imagined. It's sure as hell more than one. You need to be able to look at a problem and generate numerous ideas from multiple perspectives with speed and regularity.

So if you’re carting around one tired idea for months, thinking it's a guaranteed winner, you’re doomed. Organizations of people doing this are doomed. Industries of people doing this are doomed.

The problem isn't that people don't execute.


It's that we start to believe execution doesn't require ideation, that there are only idea people and execution people. The truth is we are all both. And getting better in one realm enables us to be better in the other. 



One Million, Then What?

Today we start with 0 ideas.

Tomorrow it’ll be more. And the day after that even more. 

I’ll walk you through how we go from 0 to 100.

Then 100 to 1,000.

Then 1,000 to 10,000. And so on. 

Nobody starts at a million. But you get there from here.

Or at least you can watch us try. 

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