Illustration: The Noun Project

Open Thread: How’s Your Idea Coming Along?

What’s your big idea? You know, the one that you’ve had in the back of your mind for months. Or maybe you have started it, but are feeling a bit stuck? Getting your ideas out into the world is a painstaking process full of frustrating impasses and unforeseen roadblocks. But, even if you haven’t launched yet, there’s hope.  

We asked the 2013 99U Conference attendees to share the progress on their ideas since last May, and interviewed three of our favorites. Each of them has gone from a “what if?” idea to launch in a matter of months.

Check out our profiles below, and then feel free to share your progress – and setbacks – on your own creative projects in the comments. The 99U editorial team will do our best to respond with resources and insights to get you moving again!

1. Phil Schanely: Push your limits, in creativity and in your career.

Phil Schanely arrived at last year’s 99U Conference looking for a change. The adjunct professor and web designer at Cedarville University wondered what the next step would be in his creative career.

At 99U, he concluded that he wanted a full-time faculty job, one that would require a MFA. Fueled in part by Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia’s talk, which focused on visualizing next steps, Schanely realized he had to get his portfolio in order, overcome his fear of rejection. “I remembered Brené Brown’s talk on criticism. That’s what this [creative] field is: criticism. If you can’t take it you shouldn’t be in it,” he said.

So Schanely put his head down, assembled a portfolio, and applied to grad schools that would enable him to remain in his current home in Cedarville, Ohio. Schanely was eventually accepted into the Savannah College of Art in Design “I’m taking classes online and absolutely loving it. It’s hard work, but it’s what I need to be doing.” 

2. Brian Bono: “It was like I unlocked a whole new side of the creative process.”

Brian Bono came face-to-face with the wisdom of that oft-quoted aphorism “done is better than perfect” at the 99U Conference. An art director and app developer, Bono had been kicking around a handful of ideas, while never taking any single one seriously. “It was that process of taking idea after idea and not executing on it then I’d see it executed elsewhere and get frustrated.”

Post-99U, Bono shifted his focus from chasing perfection to launching and iterating quickly, a sentiment reinforced by an incredible talk from Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, the Irish inventor of Sugru, who advised attendees to “start small and make it good.”

Armed with new motivation, Bono applied to a startup pitch event in Detroit with an idea for a task management app before even having a prototype or a site built. “It was vaporware at that point.” Bono was accepted and was forced to build a minimum viable product. 

At the pitch event, with only a bare-bones version of the app to show, he got a handful of signups and the motivation to keep iterating for a bigger launch. “I had the world’s worst stage fright, but it helped… It was like I unlocked a whole new side of the creative process.” 

3. Cyriel Kortleven: If you’re serious, set immovable deadlines.

Like Brian and Phil, Cyriel Kortleven had an idea in the back of his mind when he came to 99U — a book he wanted to write on simplicity in the creative process. 

He had already loosely set aside some time to write over the summer, but seeing Nike’s Ben Shaffer and Simple CEO Josh Reich describe how they made something out of nothing kicked him into another gear. “The conference helped me speed it up a little bit,” he says. He tweaked his original plan to finish the book in 2014 and decided to complete it this year.

Kortleven realized that both Shaffer and Reich described the usefulness of deadlines, and he decided to take their advice, booking an editor for September before he even had made much progress on his first draft. The editor forced him to keep up a brisk writing pace, or lose money when he didn’t deliver. 

Kortleven’s new book, Less is Beautiful, was published in late October. “All the people at the conference are doing stuff. I can’t put my finger on it, but the atmosphere helped me persevere and go for it.”


What’s holding you back from executing on your idea?

Comment below, and we’ll do our best to help you get back in gear!

Also: Tickets are now on sale for the 2014 99U Conference. It’s all about insights to get your ideas off the ground.

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