Why you should choose an ambitious startup idea


I believe that ambitious startup ideas have similar success probabilities to their less ambitious counterparts, if not higher success rates. No, I don't have any real evidence. Call it a highly educated guess.
Note I'm not talking about expected value -- they definitely have higher expected values. They also have a much greater chance of being an elusive $100M exit, which is why VCs are always looking for them.

A higher probability of success is a completely different thing because if it were true then you should almost always choose an ambitious startup idea. (There are still a few reasons why it still may not be the best choice in a particular situation.)

Ambitious startup ideas usually operate in large markets where there are often lots of customers and lots of money flowing. If you start out trying to create or disrupt such a market you often end up stumbling on an initial beachhead where you can attack the greater landmass.

Contrast that outcome with a less ambitious startup idea, which usually means picking a niche a priori. In that case you're limiting both market size and wiggle room, and so if your guess at the right niche is wrong you can be left almost dead on arrival.

Another contributing factor is ambitious startup ideas are attractive to the ecosystem of startup land. If the idea is the brain, everything else you will eventually need is the body (employees, investors, press, etc.). An ambitious startup idea with just a little bit of traction attracts all the right body parts. A non-ambitious startup idea with just a little bit of traction languishes on AngelList.

My project ideas have certainly gotten more ambitious over time. In other words, it has taken me a long time to learn this lesson.

One non-intuitive corollary is you don't have to start out like a big company (raising tons of money, etc.) to attack a big vision. This is essentially the primary tactic Paul Graham lays out in his latest essay on frighteningly ambitious startup ideas, which pushed me over the edge this morning to finally pen this post.

Update: good comments on HN.


If you have comments, hit me up on Twitter.
I'm the Founder & CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you. I'm also the co-author of Traction, the book that helps you get customer growth. More about me.