Guess What Percent of Ideas are Really Opportunities

This monday I posted ideas vs. opportunities in this space. The point was filtering all those ideas for the subset that are actually opportunities.

Overnight I got an email from Rick Holdren, chief evangelist for Medi-code, with this delightful additional story:

As a angel investor in over 25 startups I tell a different story: A few years ago Starbucks put suggestion boxes in all the Starbucks locations. They got 50,000 ideas. They implemented three of them.

I don’t know Rick, and I can’t validate his story. Anybody else know? Do you work at Starbucks and know the background story? Please comment.

And I’m not asking Rick, much less challenging him, because I’ve always said (and written, including on this blog) that stories have value whether they are literally true, or not. For example: Can stories be true when they’re false? Besides, I’m grateful for the story, why not use it for its illustrative value, instead of challenging it?

And this story, true or not, makes its point. Divide three executed ideas by the 50,000 and you get 1/150,000, which is 0.00000667. That’s .0007 percent. Seven hundredths of a hundredth of a percent. Sort of like a needle in a haystack. I hope you ideas to opportunities ratio is better than that, but you be the judge.

Tell me I’m wrong. Comments are open.


  • rick holdren says:

    Tim I’m with you whether its 50,000 or 5,000(i doubt it) the point of the story is that angels don’t invest in ideas ……too risky(proven by a guy who’s lost more money than Anthony will earn in his lifetime but also made a bunch of money too. Every start-up I do I run into a ‘Anthony” type VC or angel in one of my ACA(angel capital assoc of 300 angel groups I help found) groups…at 65 yrs old I’ve learned to ignore them those who can do…DO those who can’t….. criticize…..My ‘day job’ for 35 years was appraising/selling medical practices ect(over 3,000) and I’ve testified in the largest cases in history always against a CPA like Anthony & my side has only lost once…my point is that they didn’t talk to the ‘trier of fact’ or ‘jury of average non-accts’ so they lost the war(but won a battle)btw I suspect you do your blog ect because you love it …..I do too!

  • Anthony L. Testi says:

    have been pondering the 3 out of 50,000 statement and a few things come to mind. First is the statement there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. ( As a nod to you I have also heard that there are lies, damn lies and business plans, but I digress ) I think the 3/50,000 may go into the statistics pile.

    Was there really 50,000 UNIQUE ideas? First 50,000 is way too smooth of a number I might believe nearly 50,000 or well over 50,000 but not exactly 50,000. Next 50K ideas with no overlap at all, that to me seems impossible. Maybe there was 250K or so unique ideas that where summarized into 50,000 ideas but that seems a bit of a stretch IMO. 50K unique ideas is very (overly IMO) impressive forget the only 3 good/implementable part.

    What I suspect is closer to the ‘truth’ is that about 50,000 ideas were submitted and that there was maybe 100 to 1000 unique ideas spread out in a long tail ( See: ) The most popular idea might of been mentioned by ~20% of the people, the next 15%, the next 12% and so on, each idea getting less and less common. Some of the most ideas may not of been possible, e.g. drop your prices by 95% (But maybe they could/did drop them by 5% would that be implementing the idea, at least they could claim that they where influence by the idea. ) but the 3 suggestions that they could and did implement may have covered 10%, 20% or more of all the suggestions. So by just following the 3 best ideas a large portion of suggestions made were covered, not the fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percentage that the story may lead one to think.

    “why not use it for its illustrative value, instead of challenging it?”

    Because there are people like me ( I say between 10% and 30% of the population ) that know in our hearts that these numbers are at best semi-made up and following any advice based on them may be a bad choice.

    I agree that having stories to boil down a idea to make it easy to tell, remember etc. but It also needs to be plausible or people like myself may spend way too much time being concerned with the ‘false’ details ( Example see what I have written above. ) and the ‘true’ core point, in this case that not all ideas are opportunities.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Anthony, thanks, and I wish there were some way to really evoke a wide happy grin, as my reaction to your comment. The silly 🙂 doesn’t do it. I’m definitely not going to argue that the correct number is 3/50,000, and I am going to argue that I’m delighted to see you questioning the numbers.

      That’s what numbers are really for: to frame thinking, pose problems, generate discussion.

      There are three kinds of people: those who live by the numbers, and those who don’t.


  • Luis says:

    How many of the ideas in the suggestion box are really taken into consideration, how many even read? I am sure that there are companies where it really matters, but I’ve always had the idea that this is more for internal marketing reasons than anything else. I can’t get rid of the following image: in one side of the wall, a brand new box with a label where you can see something like: “your ideas are important to us” but in the other side, just a wastepaper…

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