How We're Building This - Part 2: Ideation

by Rahim Diallo
 Ideas are cheap. You’ve probably heard that at nauseam, especially with the startup crazed environment we live in. Well, ideas may be cheap, due to the low barrier to entry (a somewhat functional brain). But, pursuing an idea is very dear. Today, we’ll discuss ideas in general, and out of all the problems the world faces, why we decided to focus our energies on “solving” the lack of representation of traditional African food products in the global marketplace.
What makes a good idea?
No one really cares.
Typically, when people ask this question, they don’t really mean “good” based on the merit of the idea; they often mean to ask “which idea makes money?”. In that case, a good idea is one that provides a need or desire to enough people, for it to be worth the effort required to make it happen.
Typically, we think of ideas as this one and done process. As if after you get the idea, pretty much nothing else is required of your person. But intuitively, we all know this to be false. It requires tremendous effort to get off your ass day in and day out to chase something that may not even be there. For most of us, it goes something like this: Out of the blue, sometimes after an experience but not always, your brain effortlessly connects dots that make you exclaim to the poor soul nearest to you, “wouldn’t it be cool if you could rent a room from anyone’s house anywhere in the world, instead of a hotel!?”… then five years later, you hear some startup just raised a billion dollars on this very premise. Dang it! That was your idea! 😃
In reality, the initial idea is like JFK’s declaration of a moon landing. Very easy to think and say, much harder to do. There are no physical laws that make it impossible, but you’ll have to test and refute a lot of sub-ideas (we’ll touch on this later) before you can make the landing (your exit or liquidation event). Everyone of those tests require time and money. The same is true for a startup, with one caveat. Unlike the moon landing, where the laws of physics do not change, in the startup world, the rules change and the market shifts; so you have zero guarantee of success. You can end up spending years and millions of dollars and have absolutely nothing to show for it. The lesson, startups are more brutal than Physics.
Early on, you’ll mostly need time if you’re scrappy, but as you start to gain traction, lots of money. People are fond of saying you don’t need money to launch a business, those people are lying to you.

Why do you need money?

This is where this concept of sub-ideas come in. When you thought of your room rental business above; you gave zero thought to what it reaaally takes to make that happen. Then you invest a little brain power into the original clean and neat idea; out of nowhere, it starts to spawn a million unruly questions that will, if you’re doing it right, start giving you new ideas on how to answer them. You start asking yourself: Who will use this? How will they find it? What does it look like to the user? What tech stack should we use? Should we prioritize web or mobile with our limited resources? What kind of regulatory issues will we have? and on and on… Answering any one of those questions, requires new ideas. So, if you are to ever move from the first grand idea to product to market to success; you’ll have to come up with a lot of ideas. The lesson here, seeing the solution is easy, but getting to it is like those heist movies with a massive room and a Cullinan diamond in the middle; protected by invisible lasers and motion sensitive 0.50 caliber turrets hidden inside the walls. You can get to it, but it won’t be easy.
With that highly encouraging prelude out of the way, let’s talk about Ginjan.
The idea for the concept that gave birth to Ginjan Bros, the company, has been more of a journey than a “eureka” moment. As you might have noted above, we don’t believe much in the “eureka” stuff.
The journey went as follows: Two brothers grow up in Guinea (West Africa) eating and drinking delicious West African stuff. Then, they come to America, woohoo, and find a lot of other Africans. In fact, they find people from all over the world, eating foods from all over the world, except Africa. What the hell man!? How come only the Africans are eating African stuff? It’s delicious, and if they tried it, they’d love it!
But at this point, the brothers are too young and disoriented to know what to do about this. Plus, they’re in their early to mid-teens, they have more pressing matters on their minds. Like how to be cool at all time.
Time goes on, and this question lingers. Now, they’ve learned American stuff, they can quote Seinfeld and know what a wedgie is. Awesome; but the mainstream still don’t know delicious African stuff. Shame. Most importantly, it is impossible to get a premium quality of the most iconic beverage of their childhood, a delicious homemade ginger elixir called Ginjan. Fed up with this reality they’ve been observing and complaining about for some 15 years, and having mastered the art of being cool at all time, they decide to be the ones to make traditional African foods and beverages a thing in America, and everywhere. But there are tons of those products to chose from; so instead of taking them all on, they decide to start with the one product they miss the most. Ginjan. Build a brand around that, and introduce the rest.

OK, we now have an idea. What next?

The very first thing we did was to make a powerpoint. We were having friends over – mostly from Africa that day – for dinner and thought, we should pitch them on the idea and see how they react. Although we could’ve done this verbally, we knew that with a powerpoint, they’d take it more seriously, it would make it real for them. We knew they’d love it, because we were preaching to the choir. What we were really after was pushback on why it’s a bad idea. Oddly enough, the most important outcome of that pitch wasn’t the feedback, it was the name of our company. You see, after that event, our friends started calling us “The Ginjan Bros”, so as we toyed around with company names, that stuck.

Great, we have a name, good for us. Now what?

Our next step was to figure out how to make the product, understand the market, brand the company, design a go-to-market strategy, and figure out how we’ll get any money to get started. We had none. Not “I only have a couple of grands” none, more like “I might not make rent this month” none.
In the next installment, we’ll talk about how we got our recipe together and the market research we did to get a sense of what we’re going into, how big it could be, and what it would really take to make it big. Hint: We’re still figuring most of this out. See you next time 😃

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