Why I had to crush a 15 year old’s dream (I’m not sorry)

Why I had to crush a 15 year old’s dream (I’m not sorry)

A few months ago I had lunch with a bunch of highschool aged entrepreneurs to give them feedback on their idea.

They were planning on building an energy generating play park for kids.

Now, I don’t mean to come off as a direct poo-pooer of dreams…

… but after 15 minutes of listening to their pitch I decided to ask some questions that I knew were going to shatter their excitement.

  1. Have you figured out the average time a kid plays on a play park?
  2. If they did play with your version of a swing, how much energy would it generate?
  3. Does that amount generate a sizable amount of energy?
  4. What’s the added cost to build a swing your way vs. the existing way?
  5. Does the assumed energy production cover the additional cost?

“But, if this works this could change the way communities power their houses.” one blurts out.

He was clearly high on his own supply.

And look, I don’t mind overly enthusiastic founders building something never before seen.

It’s what the world depends on for progress.

But what bugs me more is waste.

Waste of time, talent and energy focused on solving a problem that they haven’t de-risked.

When I work with founders building high-tech software, I teach them the “Riskiest Assumption” framework.

That’s what I want to teach you in this week’s video.

(Before you hit play, I want to apologize for my hair sticking out like that – it annoyed the crap out of me too. My bad. :).

At a high level, here’s how I work through the steps:

  1. Assume I’m wrong
  2. Make a list of all the assumptions
  3. Break em’ up into categories: Customers (Who), Marketing (Where), Costs (How Much?), Technology (How)
  4. Sort by riskiest assumption (Highs go first)
  5. Use a validation step to get feedback: 1) Expert (fastest), 2) Experiment

Now, the reason most people don’t reach out to experts to validate their ideas is because they’re worried someone will steal it.

Don’t worry about that.

The fastest way to move is to reach out to those who would know the science, the best practices or the model that you need to validate ASAP to move forward.

I’m sure over the years you’ve tested some of your own assumptions…

… got any funny stories?

Be sure to leave a comment with your best ones.

I’ll add a few more of my own as well.


  • http://davidhdennis.com/ David H Dennis

    So I was at this “eco-festival” event called the Friends of Nature Festival. I’d been asked to shoot pictures at it for a friend, and in exchange for free (normally very expensive) tickets I did it. The festival itself was a lot of fun, but it seemed annoying that there were so many diesel generators floating around what was said to be the first sustainable, ecologically sound festival, ever.

    A very good friend of mine said that he wanted to create a festival where people sustainably powered the performance stage with bicycles. He had a whole elaborate conception when as people pedaled there would be an slick computerized LED system where the more they pedaled the more elaborate and beautiful the images would get. I asked him if he’d seen the stand at the eco-fair we were attending where you could charge your phone through a bike. Turns out you gained a few percentage points in an hour. So I told him that he could not power his complex LED display, let alone the actual performance stage, with bicycles.

    He looked at me and basically said that he was sure it could be done, we just didn’t have the confidence or the get-go to make it happen.

    I loved his enthusiasm and it would be great if people running “eco-festivals” didn’t have to be hypocrites. Standing right at the Main Stage at this event there were two 180KW MQ Power™ WhisperWatt™ generators that were running 23 1500 watt amplifiers and who knows how much in the way of glittery LED lights and projectors. Using Powerful WhisperWatt technology, the generators made a barely audible hum that you could easily have a conversation over. Needless to say, despite this being a “eco-festival” their plan to run the generators on biodiesel came to naught.

    Sadly the Eco-Festival was a disaster for its performers and organizers. About $400,000 was lost, and many of the performers were not paid. I enjoyed it anyway, but I was glad I hadn’t paid for it … it was, after all, not at all eco.

    • http://twitter.com/danmartell Dan Martell

      David, not sure how this connects to my blog post?