10/04/2011 10:26 am ET Updated Dec 04, 2011

Recognizing The Next Big Thing

When I left what I thought was my dream job to launch a start-up, I truly believed I was onto something huge. Initially, I was following my instincts; however, looking back, some key indicators reinforced my gut feeling. Think you're on the precipice of the next big thing? Ask yourself these questions first.

Is the market so big that you struggle to quantify it? I've got a fancy MBA and understand how to do market sizing, but some opportunities transcend that concept. When you're talking about an idea with the potential to radically change the way people live, work, shop or communicate, it's tough to define potential in terms of a market size. How big was Google's market when they started? Amgen? Facebook? eBay? The next big thing rarely comes from well-understood and easily sizable markets.

Is your idea an opportunity in the midst of massive macro-trends that haven't quite matured, but are close? Think of a Venn Diagram, where the circles represent what I call "buzzword concepts" -- macro-trends that are finally becoming reality. Your concept is ideally situated when it falls in the center of the overlapping circles. For example, Microsoft was built around the personal computing and software explosion trends. Both Google and Facebook found themselves in the midst of the explosion of digital advertising with Google also in the midst of better online search needs and Facebook focused on social networking. Even we found ourselves in the center of things like location-based services, mobile payments and ubiquitous mobile data -- concepts that barely existed even a few years ago. This kind of macro-trend convergence happens in all kinds of industries, from life sciences to energy to technology. The Next Big Thing lives there.

Are the smartest people you know constantly thinking about your idea and willing to help you bring it to life (for free)? If you're beating your head against a wall trying to get smart people to understand what you're doing, you're probably not working on the Next Big Thing. The best ideas resonate beyond your expectations and with all kinds of people. If you're really working on a significant market disruption, you'll be bombarded by people who want to help simply because they're excited about the potential positive impact. When the smartest people you've ever worked with are willing to drop everything to help you, you know you're on to something. The next challenge is harnessing all the brain power of those smart people to make yourself and your team more effective in executing on your Next Big Thing.

Do early tests of a "minimum viable product" generate rave reviews? Particularly in the technology world, conducting initial testing on a "skeleton" product is becoming easier and easier. If you're really working on a must-have product or service, even the most basic functionality, product sketches, designs, or tests will create incredible early buzz. Most importantly, you should capitalize on this to find people who truly care about what you're doing and want to help. If you can easily connect with users who are passionate about the simplest version of your product, that's a good indication that you may very well be on the verge of something major.

Is your team truly fanatical about the potential that lies ahead? Company founders are almost always in love with their idea (the 'early' Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos are perfect examples of that type of founder-obsession); however, if the rest of the team doesn't internalize that obsession, it's virtually impossible to achieve your goal. I'm only half joking when I say that our crew borders on insanely in love with our vision and the product. It's tough to capture what this means in a few short sentences, but the value of truly committed workers is quite possibly your most valuable asset. I'd guess that every "Next Big Thing" company was filled with people in love with their work. Actually, this team-wide fanaticism might just be a requirement to become the Next Big Thing.