editingAs an entrepreneur and young CEO, chances are that you come up with a new business idea weekly, if not daily.  In some cases, you might get addicted to starting new things and solving new problems.  As fun as they may be, these constant forays into new business ventures can make it very difficult to balance your work and personal life. Additionally, trying to man too many ships will inevitably dilute your creative and strategic energies. Typically, this means that every business and venture you are involved in suffers.

Telling an entrepreneur to stop having ideas is like telling John Mayer to stop tweeting ridiculous things about his girlfriend du jour[or insert other appropriate metaphor].  It is not a matter of having fewer ideas but it is about editing which ideas turn in to businesses and products and creating a pre-determined process to weed outthe winners.

1. Create an idea filter

Create this right now.  An idea filter is a matrix divided into categories—type of idea, industry served, manpower needed, start-up investment needed, technology needed, and so on and so forth.  That should be on your Y-axis.  On your X-axis, create an A, B, and F column.  A, B, and F are grades for your ideas.  Below is a sample idea filter.

Type of idea
  • Online software
  • Subscription model
  • Online software
  • Non-subscription model
  • Service business
Industry served
  • Finance
  • Hospitality
  • All other industries
  • Science-based
  • Health care
Manpower needed (initial)
  • 1-2 part-time
  • 4+ full-time
  • 1-2 full-time
Start-up investment
  • Less than $10,000
  • More than $250,000 (angel)
  • $10,000- $25,000
  • $25,000- $250,000
Technology needed
  • SaaS platform (less than $100/month)
  • SaaS platform ($100-$200/month)
  • Custom-built platform


In most cases the filter categories and the filter grade will be dependent on where you, as the CEO, want to go.  If you know that you don’t want to work in a certain industry or you don’t want to ever get outside funding again, these will be in your filters.

2. Run your ideas through the filter

Write down your ideas as you come up with them.  Every couple of weeks, go through the ideas and cross off the ones that you no longer like (believe me, they might not look as good as when you came up with them after a few martinis).  You also may find that some of them need to be backburnered or revisited later.  Once a month, put those ideas that are still of interest through your pre-determined filter matrix.

Go through every category in your chart and give your idea a grade for each one.  Do this exercise with someone else on your team who is not wildly optimistic and excited about all of your ideas.  That person will help keep you in check and keep you from cheating on your idea filter.  Believe me, you’ll want to mark some categories as an A that really should be a B…or even an F.

If any of your ideas get even one mark in the F category, they are off the table.  F is your “deal breaker” column.  You should have deal breakers.  If you don’t, you’re not picky enough and you’re unrealistic.

3. Perform a feasibility study

For any ideas that make it through the filter labyrinth, take a look at the feasibility of the idea as you know it.  The effectuation model is the method we’ve found most helpful.  Don’t spend a ton of time researching but ask yourself and your team, “Who are the 3 people that we need to talk to in order to find out more?”  Who are the experts that can shed light on things we didn’t think about?

Once you talk to these people you may have an entirely different idea or you may feel that your theories have been confirmed and validated. Be open to modifying your idea.  Major modifications should be brought back to the filter to ensure that you’re not in deal breaker territory.

As someone who does not love structure, I have still grown to really appreciate this process.  It keeps my entrepreneurial spirit in check and keeps me from doing crazy things and spinning my wheels on ideas that are really not going to get me, or my company, where I want to go.

What filters do you institute when you have new ideas for businesses or products?

Alexandra Gibson is the Managing Director for OttoPilot Media, an inbound marketing firm based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the SVP for Aspen Associates, an FF&E procurement company in the hospitality industry.  She wrote her first business plan at age 11…she’s been entrepreneurially intolerable since then. Be sure to follow her on Twitter- @gibsondm