The Startup Myth Too Many People Fall for

March 10, 2016, 6:00 AM UTC
Businessman running along sidewalk with oversized cheque
Photograph by Getty Images/Cultura RM

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 “How do you come up with a new startup idea?” is written by Chris Boehner, founder of Western Natural Foods.

It can be intimidating for the first-time entrepreneur to decide on a business idea. You might be kicking around a few possibilities, but when you measure them against mega-successful startups, they lose their luster.

So how do you know when you have a great idea on your hands?

You don’t. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s a process.

Having a clear, perfect startup idea is a myth. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a founder with a successful company that turned out exactly as first conceived. That’s because it’s easy (and tempting) for founders to retroactively connect the dots.

You should think of your startup idea like a sculptor might select a block of marble from which to create a masterpiece.

To others it’s just a block of marble, but your job as a founder is to convince others what lies within. As Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

For my first company, the marble slab came in the form of a phone call from my alma mater wanting to verify the credentials of Chinese applicants. For my current business, the slab was the idea that a good-for-the-world Big Food company could have an impact on human health, local communities, and the environment.

See also: Doing This for an Hour Each Week Will Make Your Business More Successful

The next step is to present your rough-cut marble to potential cofounders, advisors, mentors, industry experts, and investors (don’t ask them sign a non-disclosure agreement—no one will talk to you and your idea isn’t all that great at this point anyway). Pitch them on what you see within and listen to their suggestions on what will and will not work.

This is the beginning of the sculpting process and when the block begins to take form. Provided you like the shape the idea is taking, keep going.

With my first company, we realized it was impossible to verify anything in China, but this led to the insight that we could add verified information to the application process.

With Western Natural Foods, I witnessed cut-throat Big Food companies acquiring healthy brands, compromising product quality, adding sugar, and suffocating missions and values. This inspired our business structure, which allows us to legally protect brands, products, consumers, employees, local communities, and producers.

No doubt you’ve read about the importance of resilience. Most people quit when other people start to criticize their ideas. It can be ugly in the beginning. Defend your idea, but listen to the criticisms. Write down hard questions and the biggest concerns. Revisit your pitch, think, and adjust based on input.

I was recently having lunch with a friend and he said, “Oh, I have this idea for a company, but if I do it, I want it to be the best and really big…I want it to be perfect.” I told him, “If you’re thinking that way, then you’re already screwed.”


In effect, my friend is wandering into a marble quarry and searching for a finished Michelangelo’s David. Ideas just don’t look like that. It’s the process that makes a great business idea.

So if you are reading this during your lunch break, wondering if your idea is a good one, there is really only one thing to do: Take action and don’t let perfection paralysis prevent you from starting on your idea.

In a few years, people like you will look at your masterpiece, retroactively connect the dots, and think you’re a genius. But now you know better.

Pick your slab and start chipping away.

Chris Boehner is the founder of Western Natural Foods, a company redefining the food industry by building the first branded Benefit Corporation. He spent the previous nine years in Beijing, China where he founded his first company, toured across China with his bluegrass band and cycled across both Asia and Africa. Chris speaks Mandarin Chinese and lives in San Francisco, CA.

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