Ideas don’t mean much by themselves. They only become meaningful when you’re able to bring them to life.
That’s what Mario Schultzke figured when he launched IdeaMensch, a community created for people who are keen on launching their ideas into reality. He’s now in the midst of a 48-state road trip across the United States to organize events that highlight local entrepreneurs and help conference-goers get their ideas off the ground. Most often it’s a small business or start up, but the support extends to passion projects such as books, a website, an app … whatever someone has dreamed up.
At the Detroit event the featured speakers were generally of the social-entrepreneurial bent. All of them had something either funny or inspiring to say about launching projects. Here are a few takeaways from the conference:
1. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
Tom Nardone, president of PriveCo and founder of the Mower Gang group that mows overgrown parks and fields in Detroit, is pretty droll about his charity work. “Set the bar as low as low as you want,” he says. “You’ll find something to get done.”
We all have our work, family and a thousand other small things to balance, but there are small ways everyone can find to give back. Although Nardone is talking about philanthropy, the principle applies generally in life. Whether you’re talking about launching a business, sustaining a business or your passion project, incremental action and change is better than sitting on your tuckus.
2. Talkin’ ain’t mowin’
Everyone had their ideas on how to improve the mower gang … canvassing the neighborhood, shifting to other areas, partnering with other groups, etc. To this, Nardone had one response, “Talkin’ ain’t mowin’.”
He knew how much time he had to commit to the project, he knew what he could take on, and he knew what he couldn’t. Staying the course and sticking to his plan instead of batting around ideas about expanding meant the parks still got mowed. Know your priorities, resources and commitments. Then stick to them.
3. Things aren’t as simple as they appear on paper
Ben Blackmer, a concert pianist and French major might have been the least likely of all candidates to get involved in a tech start up. His company, Are You Human, builds games instead of text to prove a user isn’t a machine. So instead of typing in those annoying captchas, a user could put a face on a potato head or pepperonis on a pizza.
Blackmer met his team when he was in business school – something less than typical (and in some eyes hindering) for a tech start up. “We’re a bunch of MBAs,” Blackmer explains. “But I take that and say you can do whatever you want if you say ‘I’m going to do this.’ On paper it looks like ‘how the hell are we going to do this?’ It’s drawing on your own skills to make the next step.
4. Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission
Maybe this is an unsurprising piece of advice from Detroit Bus Company founder Andy Didorsi, but he has a point of clarification. “I don’t mean go out and do something shitty. I mean if you ask everyone how to do something ahead of time, you generally don’t fit into a category. No one really knows. My advice is just to do it and find out what breaks.”
When setting up his bus system, he says he ran into “dream-crushing pdfs,” hefty insurance requirements and red tape galore. But the nature of an inventive idea is people haven’t thought of it … so good old American self-reliance might be the best virtue you can carry.
5. You win more when everyone wins
The theme of the day with the featured Detroit speakers tended toward social entrepreneurship.
“I love the theme of people identifying problems in the city and identifying solutions,” says Schultzke. “It’s very simple, but very impactful. I always talk about win-win-win situations. I think the more you can create that, the more likely you are to succeed, and the more likely you are to actually enjoy what you’re doing.”