Breather CEO: These Ideas Build the Best Businesses

January 9, 2016, 7:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Breather

The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s something you wish you knew before starting your business?” is written by Julien Smith, cofounder and CEO of Breather.

The world rewards crazy ideas—as long as you can handle what comes with them.

There is a problem with smart ideas: They’re obvious. While it may seem totally counter-intuitive, there are tons of smart people in the world, and they’re all thinking about the same things, all simultaneously. Ten of them want to create an Uber for food delivery, and eight of those will successfully raise some financing. But when those eight are competing against each other, do you want to be one of those eight?

But, if you have a unique background (I did), and decide to make something that is really hard to pull off or totally crazy, the world might actually reward it.

So many entrepreneurs are competing right now to try to win over investors looking for the next obvious win. You see it all over the place. It happens because standout, unique successes like Snapchat and Slack create whole generations of me-too businesses. Unfortunately, most of these copies eventually collapse, no matter how reasonable or smart they may have been. But what most don’t understand is they collapse because they are reasonable. To be reasonable is to compete against eight other reasonable businesses. It’s what’s common—and common is precisely what you want to avoid.

Of the companies that end up making it, most of them create “blue oceans,” or industries where there’s no competition, like Snapchat, Airbnb, or SurveyMonkey. All of these companies are such random successes that they were completely unpredictable, yet they succeeded because they were wild and they had great people behind them. So when they got traction, they were sole players, defining their own markets.

See also: The Important Question Every Employee Should Be Able to Answer

Prior to founding Breather (in its fast-growing, current form), I briefly worked on a meditation studio business. There were tons of problems with this idea, but the main one was that the idea sounded perfectly reasonable and seemed like it could really be a thing. So everyone encouraged it. Had I not thought twice, I probably would have created a slightly successful studio, which would have been fine.

But when the idea, after much introspection and analysis, shifted into a business that sold space (in a broad sense), almost everyone started to think I was completely crazy and actively resisted it. To them it made almost no sense and, even years later as we raise stronger rounds of venture capital, it still confuses people. Crazy successes are counter-intuitive to people, even as they rise all the way to the top.

As a consequence, I would argue that reasonable ideas are usually the worst way to spend your time. They aren’t radical enough, so you won’t really learn anything. And worse, if they are in any way successful, you’ll be competing for years with other smart people whose ideas are just as good. You’ll think that’s what a successful company looks like, and pat yourself on the back, when what you actually did was lose.


Don’t look for those ideas. What you want is something that is so far out of left field, so wild, that everybody thinks it’s dumb—and you think it’s genius. If you’re not that convinced, it won’t get you where you need to go. All you need is one investor or one partner who thinks it’s so crazy it just might work.

As it turns out, wild ideas help recruit your team, too. Because they’re so outside of people’s normal pattern recognition, they don’t know what to make of them, so they consider them more seriously than before. They find themselves thinking, “What am I not seeing that this guy is? Is this as dumb as I think it is, or is something else happening?” That doesn’t happen with normal-sounding projects.

None of this can be rushed, though. Every idea you come up with will initially sound like a good one—and it will tempt you not to go further. The idea may be okay, but okay isn’t good enough in a world that’s accelerating and changing faster every single day. You need something absolutely unique, with no parallel. But if you take your time to find it, when you do, you will know.

And lucky for you, nobody else will.

Julien Smith is a best-selling author and CEO and cofounder of Breather. Founded by Smith and cofounder Caterina Rizzi in 2012, Breather is a network of beautiful, on-demand spaces that are perfect for getting work done, hosting meetings, or simply taking a moment to relax.

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