How to fund crazy ideas.
Nearly everybody agree that disruptive innovation spins off from crazy ideas, or at least from ideas that sound impossible or unrealistic at the beginning. They can be such for different reasons:
1. too expensive to implement (i.e. the investors don’t see an adequate return on the investment).
2. considered useless (i.e. nobody will buy it, the market is not there yet)
3. too complicated (i.e. technology is not there yet).
But only those who persevere with their “crazy” vision will succeed, and not just in a small scale, but often on a huge scale.
Is there any way to get crazy ideas funded?
My answer is yes, but not from the ordinary sources. My contention is that Early Adopters are the right people to ask for funding crazy projects. Those who will spend a heck of money just to be the firsts in using your product before anybody else.
But then the question is: where to find Early Adopters willing to invest on your crazy idea? There is no simple answer to that, but I can give a few hints.
First of all, you need to tease people. You need to spread the “dream” virus, which means that even if the product does not exist, you should assume it exists and showcase it. You need to show how the world would look like with this product. In other words, you need to build a “virtual reality” where your product already exist so that people can experience it with their imagination. Use the tools that are already available such as crowd-funding platforms such as KickStarter.
(By the way, don’t underestimate imagination as a powerful marketing tool!)
Second, share your idea with other crazy people so that “craziness” will decrease. If you find other crazy people who believe that your idea is not that crazy, this a good sign that actually your idea is not crazy at all. Don’t expect to convince conservative people. Don’t try to sell your idea to the masses, they won’t buy it. Find instead the likeminded ones and build a community. Chances are that you will also find the missing person you will need to realize it.
Third, evolve your idea. Don’t just keep it as it is, but share it so that it can evolve and become more and more real. Consider that the “crazier” your idea is, the lower are the chances that somebody will copy it. Therefore, you can safely share it.
I also believe that funding startups at the idea stage is not just about money, but mostly about support and encouragement.
I remember the kick-off of the Solar Impulse project at EPFL when a bunch of visionary people (mostly of academia) were convinced that the project of building a solar airplane that would make a round the world flight with only solar power was possible.
There was no prototype whatsoever but only the “dream” of those people with some drawings of how the aircraft might look like. But nevertheless, all the people were persuaded that it was possible and that eventually would become a reality.