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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load comments (44)
  • Nicholas P. Monterotti

    We’re in the planning stages of multiple new products at my menswear company Peter Field. It’s always tough to pull the trigger and put the first of a new product out there though. Visualizing the end result and then just taking one step at a time to get there, despite how many steps there are, is really how we view the process. We tell ourselves to ‘be tenacious’.

  • Brent Watson

    Thanks in a large part to Joe Gebbia’s talk, I decided after attending 99U 2013 that I wanted to share a story that I had. I’m happy to report that last May spoke at a TEDx event to share my story! Thanks 99U & Joe!

  • Dayene Oliveira

    I overthink my ideas to the point I get tired of them. I have tons of ideas and I’m always pretty excited, but after I s sit down to think of a plan, I end up absolutely sure it was a stupid idea. Is there a technique for overthinking? I mean, I know I should start doing immediately and I tried that, but I’ll end up overthinking it anyway somewhere along the road.

    • jkglei

      Dayene, there’s an old saying that goes “An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory” and I think it’s pretty true. Taking action is the best cure for over-thinking. And often when you do, you do realize that the idea isn’t as perfect as you thought at first but it’s also an opportunity to iterate and hone your idea! I think you might find this article on building momentum helpful:

      • Dayene Oliveira

        Thank you, Jocelyn! What’s really funny is that yesterday I was feeling very inspired and productive and even after it got too late at night, I didn’t want to stop so I wouldn’t lose Momentum! This week has been a great turn point for me. Thanks again, the article really helped me to feel like I’m in the right track!

  • Joe Nicklo

    Life has been holding my back from executing my ideas. If it is not one thing, it’s another. My previous 3 jobs, I would never get off at a decent time, I’d usually get home between 7-8pm. Get home, give the significant other the attention she needs, go to the gym, come home and cook dinner then go to sleep.

    I have several projects on my Backburner List that I want to begin. I feel very overwhelmed. When I say “if it’s not one thing, it’s another” I mean obstacles that life throws at me, for instance — last night I had an issue with my car on the drive home from work. It ruined my night and put me in the “Just leave me alone” state of mind.

    I feel like despite wanting to do these self-initiated, unpaid projects that I can’t push myself to do it. I’ll sometimes make excuses like “Well I want to watch this Hockey game” or “Well I have to play with the puppy or he’ll cry” and so on. I’ve tried the Action Method. I’ve made To Do lists. I’ve set reminders. They just don’t motivate me to do these un-paid projects. If a dollar sign was attached to it, maybe I’d feel different.

    It doesn’t stop at this though, even when I start on a project (my personal business card for example), I have trouble finishing it due to me not being happy with the results, despite the rest of the world potentially liking it. I’ll do variations of the design, I’ll sleep on it — for weeks.

    When I was younger (early-mid 20’s) I never had this problem.

    Your thoughts on this?

  • Joe Nicklo

    I tried the 365 thing and last two days. :/

  • Sean Blanda

    I think you’d love Heidi Grant Halvorson’s essay on the “Get Better” mindset. In short, measure your progress only by your past not by others.

  • Sean Blanda

    Startup Weekends are great for a low pressure way to get the idea off and running. I can’t speak the academic world, but with most tech-focused start ups, getting the prototype up and running will help guide your direction more than any business plan. See how users react for a few months before committing long term resources.

    • rmbpearson

      Thanks for your response. Startup Weekend has one for the EDU community in January 2014

  • thewkyd

    I quit my job a few months back to get my head on straight about the life I really want to live and what my true passion and value is. But, the money is running out and I need to figure out what exactly my “product” could be -so I could actually start to SELL/SHIP something. It’s become a maddening elusive obvious.

    My project so far is to share my writing. I’m a really smart guy who loves solving problems. The content is one part a common sense wisdom blog for easing the chaos of our modern era, You could say like the Zen Habits blog. The other half is the curation/promotion of new human centric/suitability business practices and the use of planet saving technologies.

    Yes, you could roll your eyes at yet another blog, but I’m actually getting mentorship from the associate editor of Copyblogger. So I have my head on straight about that business.

    What am I trying to help people do? Is there a formula to really nail this? I have a passionate and unique personality, the skills, and the vision of a purpose driven brand –yet……..

    Thanks for any clues in bringing this esoteric/personal development business closer to the ground.


    • Lauren Kells

      Hi Wes,

      I left 99u feeling excited but haunted by that same question: What’s my product? And, like you, I decided it’s writing.

      So, I dug out a novel I put in a drawer several years ago and took another look at it. I was surprised to find myself excited about revising it (and delightfully less attached to it) so set about making it better. Inspired by the success of many self published authors (not to mention my own impatience) I made a deadline to self-publish in January.

      All of this is to say that what Sean links to below about just getting started rather than spending too much time on the end point, is a big deal. I’m blogging also, and am constantly discovering what it is I’m blogging about, if that makes sense. I’m trying not to let doubt stop me. I’m just going. Choosing a pen name really helped free me, too.

      If you’re into it and having fun in the process, then that’s an end in itself.

      Of course, I still go to work full time too, so less pressure there.

      • Wes "Double You" Parrish

        Thanks Lauren. Yeah, that is an interesting pill to swallow – just start! I think we all have a bit of an over perfectionist complex to hurdle – or light on fire, and get over. I’m hearing your and Sean’s advice, and I’ll do it.

        Your pen name idea reminds me of a chapter in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. To paraphrase; “Madonna isn’t Madonna. Madonna employs Madonna.” – Big mental advantage there. Use you as the weapon of production you are.

    • Sean Blanda

      Wes, it’s easy to get caught up on the idea part. I do it all the time here at 99U when thinking of what to write next! But nothing will give you a shot of motivation like exposing your work, no matter how early, to the world. Start writing, start posting and tweak as you go.

      As an editor, if someone wants to write for 99U the absolute first thing I look for are writing samples across the web. I’ve also approached people cold whose writing I’ve come to admire. Get publishing and you’d be surprised what happens. In other words: jump and a net will appear.

      • Wes "Double You" Parrish

        Thank Sean! I believe you. As I would spin it, shine and magnetize. Being vulnerable –but out there in your passion and truth, writing, sharing, and commenting amongst those who would be your audience, is the best place to start. Hey man – SHIP YOU! Got my splash page up for now;

  • Lumylu

    I’ve just returned from OH and saw quite a few unemployed people, just hanging out. The young men were always polite and mennerable. I have a business idea to employ not only them, but also others. I have documented my business process and spoken to a group (lawyer, accountants) about getting it started. After they took the wind out of my sail, I became discouraged. BUT DEEP DOWN INSIDE, IT’s STILL THERE!

    I need and execution plan.

  • Enrique Cubillo

    We live in a world with sports.
    Sports divide along a few lines. Solo, team, field, race.
    All 3 above live and are executed in both ENDURANCE FITNESS —-AND—— DAREDEVIL
    The SkateBoard has lived in the DAREDEVIL only world for 7o years now. For only arbitrary reasons. Until now.
    SpikeBoarding™ is born.
    This is the story of the final chapter of 4 wheels and a board. The story of how one man against all odds is inventing a global endurance sport by himself one practitioner at a time, the last endurance sport and created two new human propulsion strokes that will be with us forever and shall never be outperformed, ever.

    To date there are only three people SpikeBoarding™. Just a few short months ago there was only one.

    SpikeBoarding™ will be as fresh in 1000 years as it is today. It stands supported by the laws of physics and physiology.

    This ought to have happened in the mid 80’s. This is same as mt. bike or snowboard. one great big duh. Just watch it at spikeboarding com


  • growthguided

    It’s almost a method for forced accomplishment !

  • Jared Krauss

    I’m a full time college student with two jobs (thankfully one is at an amazing bookstore) who can’t stop thinking about ways to make the world better, or, rather, can’t stop reading about situations where we could/should be doing something better. These thoughts (notes, short rants, first drafts of essays, conversations with friends) don’t stop, and I don’t want them to. I want more people involved. I would love to make an anthology of ideas, actionable ideas for changing the structure of our society (America, specifically, but these ideas should come from a basis of simplicity, rationale, and equality) to better reflect the morals which exist in theory, in our brightest and most creative.

    Two problems: One, I’m struggling to overcome the idea that me, a senior in my undergraduate degree towards Middle Eastern Studies from Iowa, knows or can say something about how we could do “this” better that someone “smarter” (acknowledged ridiculous statement) than me hasn’t already thought of, or is already trying to get people to say.

    Two, I have not a clue how to solicit these ideas from others, others who would follow through on the commitment, and furthermore how to solicit the entirety of the ideas to someone who has a platform to spread them.


  • Felix

    I’m 14 and I like to work on businesses as a hobby when I have spare time rather than playing games like other kids. I’ve always been wanting to do a big business project. I have come up with lots of different ideas and acted on a few of them. I have a YouTube channel which has just passed 50,000 views and I have now earned a hundred dollars from. I started a small company transferring old vhs tapes onto dvd and made over a thousand dollars from that. I also have a photography blog which isn’t awfully successful but I haven’t put much effort into it.

    My latest project is something that I realise I should have done from the start. As you can probably already tell, it is unusual for a kid like me to be interested in business. I have different interests to other kids. I decided to start an anonymous blog where I can share my thoughts on meaningful topics. Where I can talk freely. It’s called, “Felix was different”. You can check it out here if you want,

    I’d also like to than 99U for all the inspirational stuff they post, it has really helped motivate me to challenge myself and embark on big projects!

  • EmoBein .

    Dia is a 35 year young Art- Inclined persona with a Bachelors degree in Engineering. I had to study engineering forcefully at the behest of my folks(parents), but all I ever wanted was to be an Artist(whatever kind) and blimey I am damn good in the Arts it spooks me (#Not intending to toot my horns) even when certain ideas I’ve conceived plays out in reality – I say to myself: Well that damn well was my idea.
    Cut to chase I’ve flunked two Masters degrees in Engineering, and only last month walked out on my last engineering job because I wasn’t deriving any satisfaction from it. I just knew I wanted to do something artsy and this is my time. So I’m seriously looking at film-making and production – between somewhere during my wanderings flunking Mscs’, Photography grew on me and I currently have archives of my work which is a mostly spontaneous and cinematic approach to photography – See: ( – tags: D-Fadaka,DakWani)I despise the everyday glamour photography. Think of me as an Avant Garde Lifestyle Photo-Journalist. I’ve got dozens of ideas written down on my phones and laptop I sometimes get sick of writing them down.
    Problem is I know not where and how to start.
    Cheers for reading.

  • Jake Cooper Design

    I’m a recent graduate / graphic designer trying to balance a well-paying, less creative job with my own creative passions. I’m strapped for time and find myself brainstorming and planning, but by the time I get home from a lengthy work-commute, I’m exhausted and trade my energy for creative work with spending time with my significant other. I’ve made a commitment to get up earlier to squeeze in an extra hour of creative time in the morning, which has been a great help (thanks for the ideas 99U), but my next step will be to overcome the feeling of being restricted by pre-determined “creativity times,” — a new experience to my admittedly incredible, creative, all-nighter filled, yet student-minded college experience.

    I’ve spent time prioritizing, planning, devising business ideas, studying, basically keeping busy to pretend I’m staying creative during times I’m computer-inaccessible, but end up with nothing tangible to show for it.

    99U has explained ways of making time for creative endeavors, but it’s difficult to put business before family. Any tips, experience with this conflict?

    Another issue I wonder if anyone else shares, stems from being a designer. My train of thought is always to create designs in a problem-solution workflow. But when devising ideas for personal projects, I find it hard to find compelling problems to solve when they aren’t my own. Perhaps it’s a true “First World (designer) Problem” that my lack of compelling issues in my own life have confined the objectives of my problem-solving ideas to address small, self-specific issues of common activities.

    I want to contribute to the world and make it a better place, but I find myself struggling to find a problem I’m passionate about, and worthy enough to try to improve. Have any other designers/creatives/leaders struggled in this way to make their work about a broader scope than themselves? Would love ideas, I’m here to learn.

  • ted

    hi. i am a musician but also a designer, producer, marketing guy, etc. basically a 21st century entrepeneur. i have a really novel idea but its one that would take alot of overhead to flesh out properly. ive been in contact with several magnates in my field but have been denied by being ignored repeatedly. its hard for people to visualize it the way i do in my head.

    any tips to either a.) somehow get investment or connections towards such b.) better display a mostly foreign concept to someone in a way that can fully capture it?

    • Sean Blanda

      It’s hard to say without knowing the idea! Though, I think producing a small prototype of what you have in mind (a minimal viable product as they say) will attract the help you are looking for. Or, at very least, let you know if the idea is valid.

    • Christian

      I agree with Sean below. Based on my experience at Stanford’s, I’ve come to believe (with many others) that if you want people to understand your idea, they must EXPERIENCE it for themselves. Make the simplest possible prototype that captures the essence of your idea–it can be very rough (paper, tape, or crappy HTML) yet complete–and invite the intended users to try it out with you. You will learn everything you need to know in a few hours.

  • Sean Blanda
  • Eric Goldman

    I work as a lawyer, mediator and coach in the theatre industry. Unlike other creative fields, specifically the science fields, there is no tradition of peer review in the theatre industry. I want to launch a web site and performance series called PEER REVUE where writers can submit works in progress and get feedback from other writers in a safe environment. I don’t have start-up funds to have a demo site built; I believe once I have a demo I could recruit writers to serve as critics and start soliciting submissions.

    • Diana

      nice idea!!!Have you thought looking for funds in Kickstarter website?? i have been seeing it different fund platforms to start a project as well! and that one might help you! best luck!

  • rmbpearson

    Thanks. Just sent you a friend request…

  • Hersh

    Similar to the Brain bono’s experience of the startup event, I had a similar experience as startup weekend Delhi a couple of years back. The fact of putting together a crazy idea through the prototype and getting acceptance and feedback at the event was quite a high.. Love the way 99U gets people on to interesting insights

  • Joe Nicklo

    I think that I may have ADD. Despite reading 99U, making ToDo lists, setting reminders, making sticky notes etc., I have been starting a bunch of small projects but am not finishing anything…it’s very frustrating. This goes for personal projects only. Anything with a dollar sign attached to it or day job related I finish just fine.

    • lias

      Hi, I have ADHD; I have been diagnosed from a young age. For us we have to love what we’re doing for us to have energy and motivation as our reward system doesn’t work like other peoples’ do. We need a reason for us to be truly motivated to do something. Focus on why you want to get it done and keep that idea in mind. Its really easy to forget why you want to do something and you look at it as work. Remember that all of the things with a dollar sign attached to it are there to support what you love to do – your personal projects! ADD is not a total weakness, it also includes this little thing called “hyperfocus” when we’re doing something we legitimately love. When I’m excited about something, I have energy, insane focus, and I will go for hours and not want to stop. If you don’t love your personal projects, you might want to do something you love.

  • Delany

    “Not what I want, but maybe, where I’m meant to be”- Me.

    I walked out of school at 19 (three years ago) to design and start a bank.

    The hardest part was not being ashamed, taking my armor off and sharing my work as Ms. Brown (Brene) would say. So yeah, I’m not where I want but maybe I’m where I’m meant to be.

    So how’s my idea coming? Awesome. I’ve taken a beating but I’m kicking it’s f**king ass.

    Rich Soil Bank

  • Yuri

    Learn the truth of life at Click on “The Present”.

  • Donzu

    I’m not sure whether I am too late but anyway.

    I procured a contract for myself in 2013 to be a Lead Fundraiser and Monetisation Consultant on a mobile job opportunities portal. I pulled out of the project citing a loss of passion but I was grateful for having stuck it out for two years before getting the contract.
    Currently I am working on starting an entrepreneurship show. I’m nervous and scared as anything. It feels like I’ve never accomplished anything as an entrepreneur yet I have.

    I am studying a postgrad diploma in media management and planning on doing an MBA after but I still want to have the show ready when I finish my studies.
    Any thoughts?

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