Finding Your Billion Dollar Idea: When These 9 Young Entrepreneurs Knew They Found “The One”

September 13, 2013

12:01 pm

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

For every Facebook, there are one hundred Diasporas.  Never heard of Diaspora?  Exactly.  Point is, most great ideas fail.  The question is, what separates a good idea, from a serious money-making idea?

This week, we asked our friends at the YEC,  “How many ideas for companies did you go through before landing at the startup you have now? How did you know it was ‘the one’?“.  Their responses are below.  Enjoy.

1. Three

Round Table Companies was the third company I started. All were storytelling related, but it took time to get the business model working. My first company was a film company, the second was an educational company around storytelling. Round Table finally capitalized on my storytelling expertise, combined with my desire to build a family of people looking to make a difference in the world while also generating revenue.

Corey Blake, President at Round Table Companies

2. One a Day

An idea a day keeps the doctor away. Like many founders, I have a text file on my desktop called ideas.txt. Every day, I’d open it up and try to add at least one item to the file. Many times, the ideas were terrible, but I’d still add them to the list. Over time the list built up, and the best ideas would rise to the top. That’s when my co-founder came to me with the idea for Zapier. It was light-years better than anything on my list (which had a few good ideas). After a week of working on it, we had 12 paying customers. We knew it was the one.

Wade Foster, Co-founder at Zapier

3. 50, Maybe 100

I grew up with ideas: a baseball card store, a Subway franchise down the block from the center of Columbia University’s campus, a loyalty card system that would help small businesses compete with the “big guys.” I knew Modify was “the one” for two reasons. First, it was the only business that I could mold around two principles and themes that were important to me: high-touch personal service and customization. I was able to build a business and culture that I loved around a product that interested me. I care more about our company than our product. Second, the proof revealed itself during the first 12 months when I did nothing but grind on the business. Day-in, day-out, I worked 12-hour days and thought about the business in every free moment.

Aaron Schwartz, Founder and CEO at Modify Watches

4. A Handful

I went through a handful of network marketing companies before I found my niche selling e-books. I knew it was the one when I saw how relatively simple it was to replicate success and automate the sales process so I could make sales while I slept. My startup has been nine years in the making.

Joe Barton, at Barton Publishing

5. Too Many

In short, too many. I’ve always been fascinated with solving problems, and it has taken me a lot of failed attempts to get a few right. My most recent startup called Brook was born from my personal need to discover great content. I wanted the ability to subscribe to Twitter feeds and get the top five tweets delivered daily to my email in a digest format. When I couldn’t find the product, I built it. It was received well by some of my portfolio companies at (my day job), leading us to make it public. I think knowing it is “the one” is a combination of personal passion/need and external validation from users. When you’ve created something of value, it shouldn’t feel forced, but instead like you’re uncovering the obvious.

Brent Beshore, Owner/CEO at

6. A Dozen Ideas and Two Startups

I have always had an entrepreneurial focus. While EGFS was only the second startup I founded, I have probably focused on over a dozen potential ideas over the years. For every potential idea that I thought had merit, I created a miniature business plan so that I could understand the market, how I would tackle the market, what the challenges were and if the idea was realistic. When I founded EGFS, I knew that this was the one because it was an excellent pairing of two of my core competencies: finance and accounting and my ability to create revenue through business development.

David Ehrenberg, Chief Financial Officer at Early Growth Financial Services

7. Five

I started a home heating business that turned into a video production company. Really! I started a company that was going to create an ecological home heating alternative. It was a huge idea. When I explained it, people glazed over. I made a video — a really bad video — that explained my idea. It worked like a charm, and I learned more quickly that my business idea was not as strong as I thought. People listened, and when they did, I got the feedback I needed. I slowly realized I was onto something and pivoted from home heating to website development to video production. We have worked with an incredible client list and made 378 videos. There were five companies from SwitchFuel to Switch Video.

Andrew Angus, CEO at Switch Video

8. One

After 12 years, I am still on my first company. The underlying drive for me was based on my values, the type of company that I wanted to build and the quality of delivery that I wanted to provide. I wrote a one-page business plan before I started that I showed my current team. After 12 years, it could still describe the current business. Part of the reason for this is that my plan didn’t reach for the stars. I left that for annual planning. The core idea was to set a standard, a tempo and rhythm for how to work and build a team, and it has since expanded from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur, Palo Alto, and now we are replicating it in Santiago, Chile. For all the ideas you have, most of us only have one way to define “how” we want to work on them.

Robert Castaneda, Founder/CEO at ServiceRocket

9. Four

I knew time coaching and training was “the one” when I noticed myself only growing in passion for learning about the topic. With other ideas, I lost interest relatively quickly. But, in the last four and a half years focusing on lasting behavioral change with effective time investment, I can only remember one day when I got tired of talking about it.

Elizabeth Saunders, Founder & CEO at Real Life E®


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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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