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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

I Thought of That!
By Paul Tomori
Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 05:39:38 (EDT)

Back in the early 90's (pre-public-internet), in a University business class I took, there was an assignment to come up with a product idea and a corresponding marketing plan for the idea. Being somewhat inventive and always striving for efficiency, my idea involved a kind of electronic book that would replace the absurd stack of textbooks I had to carry around everyday. Remember, no one had laptops back then and computers themselves were mostly clunky desktop monstrosities that could not be carried around. Palm pilots carried just contact and calendar info with no internet (because a public internet did not really exist yet!). Remember also that this was pre-environmentalism too for the most part. No one was too concerned yet about the killing of trees to make textbooks. And, oh, how many trees went into making all those thick textbooks!

I was such a keen student that in addition to heavy volumes on Calculus and Physics, plus an assortment of English literature, I even carried a dictionary with me... What a geek, I know. My vision for the business class assignment went as follows:

  1. There would be a kind of Etch-A-Sketch device that one could load any books one desired to it in an electronic format
  2. Stacks of thick textbooks would be reduced to a single electronic device that would be extremely lightweight and convenient
  3. There would be a fee for the purchase or rental of the device plus charges for the book content (at fees competitive to printed volumes, because after all, no printing would be required)
  4. Of course, there would be production costs and there would be royalties payable to the book writers and publishers, so some new industries would off-shoot from my idea.
  5. The device would allow for annotations (i.e. the equivalent to making notes in the margins)
  6. There would be a way to extract and store separate quotations that would carry page references with those quotes
  7. With a built-in dictionary, any new word that one came across, could be instantly referenced without having to stop the flow of reading to grab another book (i.e. the dictionary)
  8. Marketing would focus on university students everywhere (a rather large target market)

My concept involved "scratching my own itch" as they say. I carried lots of books and it was getting cumbersome. Surely, I was not alone.

Guess what happened...

My idea got laughed at by fellow students as being far-fetched. Technologically, at the time, the concept was too advanced... Star Trekian... futuristic... geeky! Furthermore, many students said they would prefer the feel of a book, that they they would prefer using a highlighter and pen to physically mark-up their books.

Also, apparently, my classmates weren't prone to carrying their textbooks around with them to any great degree. Lacking confidence at the time, I withdrew a little feeling a bit ridiculed. However, I remember thinking that at least my idea was "original" and "imaginative" (the other (better-received) ideas included a car-washing service and pet care service). I failed to inspire my fellow classmates and my grade was also poor.

In short, my idea was a flop.

Well, it's just 17 short years later and Amazon has a hot hot hot product out called The Kindle. It essentially is MY idea almost precisely how I imagined it. Wasn't I prescient!? Wasn't I a boy-wonder genius!?

I could have been filthy rich!

I could also presently be very envious and resentful of Jeff Bezos at Amazon for having "stolen" MY idea.

Happily, since that time, I have had many "imaginative" ideas and my confidence in my own ideas has grown considerably. More importantly, my resolve to act on my ideas has also grown. Whether some of my newer ideas will even come close to being as good as my University idea remains to be seen.

I have learned that it is MUCH MUCH MUCH more difficult to:

  1. have truly good ideas
  2. assess the good ideas to select only the ones to work on
  3. assemble the resources necessary to put the ideas into action
  4. actually sell others on the ideas no matter how good they are
  5. deliver the ideas into a realizable product/service
  6. get the product/service to market in time amidst a thousand others who offer competing products/services
  7. get the product/service to fruition before it becomes obsolete

Imagine if I had had the confidence to pursue single-mindedly my electronic book concept. It simply would have required more imagination to pull together the resources to bring my idea to market AHEAD of Amazon.

If only...

Alas.. I shall not become here what I do not admire in others...
I have always shunned the Monday morning quarterbacks...
I have always doubted the armchair philosophers...
I have always shaken my head at myself and others who even temporarily display a "coulda shoulda woulda" attitude

Some blog posts ago, I wrote something to the effect of: "it's better to have 1 mediocre idea that you act on, than 500 great ideas that you do nothing about".

The pride of accomplishment... of acting with resolve on your imaginative ideas (however good or great they are) is priceless.

To conclude, instead of looking back on something in your life and saying: "dammit, I thought of THAT!" or "I could have been or done that!", would it not be better to look back and say with a smile: "I DID THAT".

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