By Andrew Neitlich

How to know which ideas to pursue

By Andrew Neitlich

A Sitepoint reader emailed me with an interesting question. He comes up with all sorts of great ideas and wants to know how to figure out which to pursue.

It’s an important question since we have limited time and money.

Here’s some advice:


1. If the idea is really good, you can find an angel to invest in it. By asking an angel for help, you vette your idea to see if it really is good and also build leverage to do more ideas.

2. Or, you can find sponsors to pay for the idea in exchange for advertising. Some book publishers write compilations by various experts and charge those experts up front for the books to be produced. The experts write a chapter of the book. So the publisher puts out no money, gets a great book, and the experts are happy because they get to be in a book. With a website, I know a company that gets sponsors before launching a site — at a charter rate of course.

3. There are only two types of ideas: Good ones and bad ones. The smartest businesspeople sort their ideas into those piles. Then, for the good ones, figure out which one can make the most money for you with the lowest investment and financial/time risk. Pursue those.

4. When you launch an idea, think like the cheetah. The cheetah sees its prey and pursues it really fast for about 50 yards. If it can’t catch its prey, it gives up and finds new prey. So give your idea a stop loss amount and, if you see yourself not getting a return by the time you spend that amount, consider calling it quits.

I hope these are useful ways to triage your ideas.

  • Anonymous

    Love the Cheetah analogy Andrew.

  • what do you mean by an angel? Sorry haven’t heard the term before.

  • mkdrums

    Angel investor is the term that is given to people investing in startups and such.

  • I think number one is a horrible piece of advice. Just because you can get an angel investor surely doesn’t mean your idea is “good”…it just means some other guy thinks he can ultimately make a truck load of cash off your site. He’s not interested in your “idea” one bit, he just wants some money. Plus, getting an investor in the game 99% of the time means you’ve just forfeited your “ownership” of the idea and now some money hungry dude has his fingers in your food.

  • keithc

    That last comment is so true. This has been the way for as long as I can remember,
    person A comes up with great Idea and needs help from others to make it happen.

    In the end Person B and Person C end up stealing from Person A and get all the cash leaving Person A suicidal and costing Person D much more money in HealthCare costs due to the actions of PersonB and Person C.

  • An advice from Paul Graham: “If I could go back and redo my twenties, that would be one thing I’d do more of: just try hacking things together. Like many people that age, I spent a lot of time worrying about what I should do. I also spent some time trying to build stuff. I should have spent less time worrying and more time building. If you’re not sure what to do, make something.”

    Don’t fall into the trap of always looking for the best plan AND doing nothing. Taking action makes the difference. It’s so easy (and frustrating) to think about the best possible options and make nothing. Start creating, there is value almost in everything.

    Just make sure to get the balls rolling. Most people don’t even start anything because they are afraid it won’t work or are actually unmotivated. As Zig Ziglar once said, “motivation follows the
    action”. Also, if you finally get the balls rolling, your product/system usually turns into something completely different that you can’t even imagine yet, because of customer needs and/or changes in your mindset.

    Stop worrying, start committing. If you could tell which is the best idea, you could predict the future and humans are actually incapable of doing that (as we know today).

  • nico7799

    I agree 100% with norbert_m. Sometimes it’s better to just start something. Trial and Error is sometimes the only way.

  • Atomm

    Don’t fall into the trap of always looking for the best plan AND doing nothing.

    That has been me for so long. I was so tied up in putting together the perfect plan. In the end, I would spend too much time planning and no time actually doing. There needs to be a balance.

    Now, I recognize my past mistakes and I am working hard to actually do and not just plan and wonder if it would have made it.

  • al toman


    Thank you for the excellent, well thought comment-reply.

    It is very typical for the creator, inventor, to become victim of the angel, that is, cash-wise. Better, if your idea needs cash, begin early relationships with 6 digit plus earners who are looking for tax investments. Most any one of them would rather lose their loose change on your idea then pay Uncle Sam, or any other Country’s Uncles. My small company, here in the States, sports an Aussie investor of this kind as well as one in Mainland China. However, I still remain in at minimum 51% control of my “idea”.

    As Mr. Norbert says, ‘do something’.

    Kind Regards and watchout for those low flying angels,
    Al Toman

  • Clenard

    norman – anyone who can quote Zig Ziglar definately has my respect. Excellent Speaker right there!

    Andrew – I love the Cheetah analogy! Very interesting and should be true… let’s face it – if we don’t give up at some point- we become this “I could have done that when I was…” type person who misses out on other things in life because he was so filled on this dream that was too far out of reach at the time.

    Loving the latest Blogs man!

  • Spot on norbert_m. I can honestly say, I never thought I’d be publishing books.

  • tonysmith2

    Thanks Andrew, that is exactly the kind of advice I was loking for when I wrote to you.
    The firmest piece of advice from you is the cheetah analogy, and coupled with Norbert_m’s nugget of ‘DO SOMETHING!’, I think I’m going to write down my ideas, sort them and get cracking!

    Here’s an idea: I put up all my ideas into a site and we all choose one and individually try it out and see who does best. then choose another, and do that. an ideas factory where we all pursue the same and see what we come up with…
    offtopic? sorry if it is… ;)

  • Make something. I’m not a native English speaker but in my internal dictionary, the difference between “making” and “doing” is that making actually produces results while doing is just spending time (often procrastination).

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider your options but be careful. Somebody said “plans are nothing, planning is everything”. I add “planning is also nothing, execution is everything”.

    Focus on the results.

    Good luck everybody & thanks Andrew for all your invaluable advices. I read this blog since the very beginning and learned a lot. Keep blogging!

  • tonysmith2

    yes, I see your point.

    someone once said to me: “Fail to plan, and you plan to fail”.

    I think I may have held onto that too tightly as an excuse for procrastination.

    I have now started building something, and any hurdles aren’t stopping me, i’m actively seeking the solutions.

    Andrew mentioned mentors in an earlier Blog, but I see this community as just that.

    Thank you all.

  • totally

    Although I agree that inaction and procrastination can cause people to miss out on great opportunities, it is also very important to do some fundamental analysis. If you have a business idea but don’t do your homework, you may invest time and/or money only to find out that you aren’t going to be able to make enough margin without some sort of ridiculous volume. I know because I’ve been there. However, getting started is important!

  • pdxi

    Norbert_m wrote:

    Don’t fall into the trap of always looking for the best plan AND doing nothing.

    I agree wholeheartedly. I used to always plan like crazy and shelve my plans without doing anything about them, while also wondering why I wasn’t achieving anything. I realized what was happening and started building. I’m still far behind on everything that I want to do, but at least I’ve made my start.

    Planning without the work to follow through can lead to anxiety and intense dissatisfaction. It feels great to actually create something!

  • bockereyer

    I’ll start tomorrow.

  • tomorrow never comes ;)

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.