Three strategies to deal with the idea killer inside and outside your head

My name is Kevin and I used to be an idea killer. For almost a decade, my job was to detonate concepts for new small businesses before they reached the launch pad. Yes, to stop potentially great ideas before they got to market. Now, that wasn’t the title on my business card, but if it were, it would’ve been accurate.

Officially, I was a feasibility consultant: clients brought me ideas for new small and medium-sized ventures. My job, in turn, was to prepare a fancy, high-minded report analyzing whether the new business would fail or succeed.

For $10,000 a pop, I exhaustively analyzed dozens of business ideas over the years: ideas for recreational centers, brainstorms for boutique furniture businesses, plans for a shop purveying fine crystal. Some ideas could have potentially never made it; some could have become global brands. The truth is, when I dashed these entrepreneurs’ dreams, I didn’t know, to be honest.

Here’s how I would kill your idea: Say you ask me to evaluate your new venture. We sit down at a nice coffee shop together here in Ireland, just steps from the Atlantic Ocean, and you pitch. Maybe you’d pitch a game changing, industry busting, and ruckus-causing whopper of a startup. You tell me about your proposed revenue streams and about all the reasons why your startup will succeed. It’s distinctive, creative culture and plan for employee engagement and focus on the connection economy. Then I would go away and find enough reasons why this venture couldn’t possibly succeed. Not intentionally, of course, but unfortunately that was the normal outcome in most contexts.

The list of why-you-shouldn’t was endless. A few weeks later I would share my insights. After sipping my latte, looking out over the peaceful sea through the window behind you with a sparkle in my eyes, I would turn to you and render my verdict: “Your business will fail.”

But after years of finally killing ideas, I finally saw the light. I realized that having a bent towards “doing”—an ethos of exceptional execution, if you will–was the only way to push past idea killers like me and build companies, products and services that are exceptional. So, as penance for all the ideas I’ve killed over the years, I’m focused on helping audiences push past the idea killers in their own life.

In my latest book, DO! The Pursuit of Xceptional Execution, I interviewed entrepreneurs from around the world who lead some of the world’s most compelling brands and companies, ranging from one to 3,000 employees, and a range of turnovers from $100,000 to $130 million. I call them the Xceptionalists. They hail from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Bologna, Italy; from Des Moines, Iowa to Galway, Ireland. They run app companies, consultancies, clinics and sprawling technology corporations. Ironically, to each of the game changing businesses highlighted with my idea killer hat on, I would’ve issued a prognosis: failure.

Here are some strategies to deal with an idea killer?

1. Let your fear fuel you.

The number one thing that stops people from setting up a business world wide in every country is fear of failure according to the Global entrepreneurial monitor. No doubt fear stops entrepreneurs from growing and developing their business also. The good news is that fear is learned so you can unlearn it. How do you deal with fear? Many of the Xceptionalists appeared to have a common approach towards dealing with fear: Most honored it and saw fear as their teacher. Without it you could become complacent, they claimed. After reflecting on the source of their fears, they took action. It may have been to mitigate the risk or prepare even better but in all cases decisive action was taken that moved them closer to their goal.

2. Find an ordinary idea.

After years of naysaying, I’ve learned some very important lessons. The most important being: it’s not about the idea. It’s not about the business plan or the compelling vision to kickstart the process. It’s all a little less complicated than that. And it’s not about an occasional success or failure, it’s about the entrepreneur behind those successes and failures. It’s about the Xceptional execution of that ordinary idea. No need to levitate or wait for that elusive idea – oftentimes your game changing idea is just a solution to a problem that has been annoying you for a while. Ask Ben Milne CEO of Dwolla, one of the most disruptive technologies on the planet  whose idea came from his frustration from paying too much credit card fees in a previous company or Peldi from Balsamiq whose wired frame mockup was the solution to a nagging problem he had in a previous company – they have gone from zero to 150,000 sales and 6m in sales in four years and so on.

And there’s more you don’t even need any previous experience in your industry of choice! Consider this: 40% of Inc. 500 founders that were interviewed in Amar Bhide’s book had no past experience of working in the industry they went on to dominate.

3. Do something to make that ordinary idea real.

Many of you reading this right now have at least one idea that you need to get out of your head and into the real world. In fact, you’ve been thinking about it so long that you know all the reasons why it won’t work.

The antidote for too much knowledge is execution. Why? Execution helps to work through fear and build confidence. Knowledge will always give you enough reasons not to act. Execution is taking the next step in spite of that knowledge. Xceptional execution is taking that next step.

If you want to make the most of your life, and do work that matters, if you want to put a ding in the universe, I challenge you to take the next step. Make that cold call. Send that email. Write that first blog post. Finish the proposal. In a word: Do.

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The death of my father Kevin Kelly RIP

Last Friday, my life was to change forever – my mentor, friend and father Kevin Kelly Snr died suddenly. My immediate reaction was to send a text to my wife which read “My Daddy has died – I can’t believe it.” His death had stripped away everything and brought me back to when I was a chld.

At 83 years of age if Dad was to design a perfect ending; this would be it.
That day he got up early and completed his normal tasks – morning mass followed by a trip to the wholesalers to get some merchandise. Then into his car and back to the shop/petrol station which he and my mother Mary had run successfully since the sixties.
On his return, he worked in the shop for a few hours before walking up to his house next door to light the fire, and relax for the evening. My mother who a few months previous had a second hip operation, decided herself to go down to the shop for a few hours that day.
When she made her way back to the house that evening with Sean, my sister’s partner; she found my Dad distraught on the floor – he had just had a very serious fall. His last words were “Mother, Mother, Mother.”
That night in the company of all his family, my Dad slipped away gracefully to his eternal reward – his last breath was an inaudible whisper to God.

If there was to be a perfect ending to an amazing life – this was it. He had just completed a day’s work – my Dad was a very grounded entrepreneur so work played a major part in his life. He was surrounded by his family – family came first with Daddy, and on this very rare occasion everyone was there to say their goodbyes. He slipped away without a struggle – I know the last thing my Dad wanted was a protracted illness. Subsequently we were to learn from the thousands that attended the wake and burial that it appears that everyone had spotted him somewhere that week – it was almost like he had done a farewell tour.
The perfect death for a very spiritual man – was this the just reward for his life?
I learned so much from my Dad, some lessons I have managed to integrate – others I have struggled with; but one lesson in particular stands out – the importance of honesty.
Over 25/30 years ago our petrol station/shop was a major landmark on the Dublin to Knock road in Ireland and every Sunday we would welcome a bus or two to our forecourt which generated a lot of income/profit for the business. On one occasion a bus driver requested a blank receipt for his thirty pounds of diesel. (Clearly the attention was to put in a higher amount and get the cash back from the bus owner.) My father refused to honour his request. Even after the bus driver warned him you will never see another bus on the forecourt as his intention was to tell all his friends in the car park in Knock what had happened – my Dad refused. From that day for the next few years no bus appeared on a Sunday but my Dad didn’t care – honesty and principle was more important than money. Under no circumstances would he help someone else to “steal from others.”
Though honesty and integrity can be a difficult choice; I will always honour my Dad’s teaching on this subject.
And finally my Dad would often talk to me about attending funerals –“if only people would be there for you when you are alive – wouldn’t that be so much better,” he would say. For me this is a fitting conclusion to his life and his teachings. The challenge is to celebrate life NOW, to celebrate people’s talent NOW, to tell them how you feel NOW….tomorrow may be just too late.

Thank you Daddy for being an amazing teacher – may you dance in the heavens.

PS Can I say a very heartfelt thanks to all the people who have helped my family Mary my mother, John my brother, Dette, Anne and Clare, my sisters and all our extended family through these challenging days.

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#IrelandInspires – Here’s Why!

Ireland Inspires St Patricks Day

Ireland Inspires on St Patrick's Day and every day

A 3-minute video produce by Failte Ireland TV has clocked up over half a million YouTube views in 3 days. #IrelandInspires lists almost everything that is wonderful about this little country, perched on the edge of Europe. Ironically, the very powerful trait that helped create #IrelandInspires isn’t mentioned at all!

We are world class storytellers.

The ability to tell a good story well is embedded in our genes. We are surrounded by tales of magic and mystery from the moment we’re born. Valuable life lessons are imparted by parents and teachers through the medium of story.

In our 21st century Attention Deficit Society, the ability to capture and hold the attention of any audience is critical. People want good, solid, engaging information. There is no time to waste with waffle. With 27,000,000 pieces of content shared daily (according to AOL & Neilson 2012) and 78% of CMOs believing that custom content is the future of marketing (Harvey Wood 2013) our gift for story telling is invaluable.

I believe that Ireland can be rightfully marketed as the Land of “Talent and Talkers!” because Interpersonal intelligence comes naturally to us. Interpersonal Intelligence relates to how we connect with others. It is the ability to walk in other people’s shoes, to make them feel very welcome in your presence. Interpersonal Intelligence is s one of the most valued and sought after intelligences in the world and the Irish have it in abundance. We are curious about people – where they come from, what makes them happy. We genuinely want to hear their stories and share our own. Our ‘Cead Mile Failte (a hundred thousand welcomes) is heartfelt and sincere.

Because of this, Ireland is not only a great tourist destination but it is also a hub for people-centred facilities such as Customer Service centres and schools for teaching English as a foreign language.

According to Content+ (2013), 70% of customers prefer getting to know a company via articles over ads. Articles provide a more intimate insight into the people behind the business and help to build a rapport between the customer and the company. The natural friendliness of the Irish allows us to be excellent brand ambassadors, developing real friendships, not just customer relationships, with clients. This will be the new performance standard for any sales organisation as they battle for market share. In 2011, the Custom Content Council reported that 78% of customers believe that organisations providing custom content are interested in building good relationships with them.

So, as well as being smart, educated, resilient, innovative, hard-working and creative, Irish people have the ability to take the world on an inspiring journey through the power of storytelling.



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Xceptional Advice

Xceptionalist Patrick McKeown AsthmaCare

Xceptionalist Patrick McKeown AsthmaCa

Featured Xceptionalist Patrick McKeown of AsthmaCare says:

  • Pain could be the catalyst for that business idea.
  • Committing to action lifts a huge weight off your shoulders.
  • If it feels right, it is right.
  • Don’t focus on the obstacles before you take that first step.
  • Calming the mind is the key to sanity and clarity.
  • You don’t need a big budget to make a big impact.
  • Execution creates opportunities – all you need to do is ask.
  • Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst possible scenario or the best’ in the context of you growing or starting the business?’


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Win-Win is the way to go!

Do! featured Xceptionalist Bruno Natal from wedemand

Do! featured Xceptionalist Bruno Natal from wedemand

There was national hysteria recently about tickets for Garth Brooks’ concerts in Ireland next July. People camped out for days and nights in awful weather just to be the first in line when these coveted tickets went on sale. The promoters added a third, a fourth and finally a fifth date to meet demand, and there are still people complaining that they didn’t get tickets.

In contrast, when five music-loving boys from Brazil wanted to see their favorite bands in their home city they had to create an innovative business to make it happen.

It was difficult to get to see good bands in Rio de Janeiro because the promoters were slow to commit to bringing the acts.

Bruno Natal, one of the founders of, explains “The natives never decide to book for a concert until the day of the gig. If it has been hot all day, they may decide to stay at home. If it was raining, this would also result in a no show. Add in a lack of buzz around town about an event, and as a promoter you were really worried about the outcome. That is why so many music lovers had to travel to Sao Paulo to see their favorite bands at a huge cost. Plane ticket/accommodation and concert ticket could run into a few hundred dollars.”

Bruno and his colleagues wanted to be able to offer fans concerts in Rio at a cost of $100. They came up with an ingenious plan. The cost of bringing the act they wanted to see to Rio was €10,000 so they emailed 120 friends hoping to get 100 of them to pay €100 each to see the band.

It worked. “In a stadium that held 2000 people, 1000 people turned up. The fans got their money back and we made a little profit,” Bruno recalls.

After a while, the model evolved to allow early investors to buy tickets at a discounted rate. If the venue sold out, they would enjoy the experience for free. Bruno points out that people were thrilled to be part of something significant; to be the reason this event happened.

“This, with the obvious benefits of enjoying their favorite band at a discount price, made the investment an unmissable opportunity. After conducting two further pieces of research (one answered by more than 6k users, and a focus group) we confirmed that the refund is not what motivates people. Making a concert happen does. So now we are gonna reward the most frequent users with free tickets, sort of like a miles program.”

Bruno and the team at are excellent examples of xceptional execution of an ordinary idea.

“xceptional execution is something that is good for everyone. It balances all the parts of the process. The customer is happy because he/she gets at worse a discounted ticket and potentially a free one to their chosen concert. The band is happy because the platform allows them to see and satisfy demand in cities they may never have thought about visiting. The promoter is happy because the crowdsourcing aspect takes the risk of bringing the band to the venue.”

In common with many of the Xceptionalists interviewed for Do!, Bruno and his colleagues didn’t set out with a clear vision and a fancy business plan.

“Things evolved in line with the demands placed by others on us. So for example the business plan was done at the time we were seeking investment. The company was self-funded from the start, living off the profits of the organized events. The profits were continually reinvested.”


WeDemand TakeAways

  • Don’t make finding a solution a goal. Find a problem first – especially one that you experience yourself.
  • Satisfying a customer’s need for significance could be your unique selling point.
  • Execution dampens fears.
  • The power of friendships to build a business.
  • No need for a plan, vision or values – just DO.
  • Word of mouth both online and off is a powerful tool.
  • Time for timeout in early startup days can be a challenge but passion can see you through.
  • Never stop focusing on developing a rich customer experience.



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Do! meets Elmo in Times Square, Hong Kong.

Do! in Times Square, Hong Kong, with Elmo

Do! in Times Square, Hong Kong, with Elmo

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Do! paying respects to Shirley Temple

Do! on Hollywood Walk of Fame with Shirley temple

Do! on Hollywood Walk of Fame with Shirley temple

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Just Get it Done!

Ben Milne set out to find a way for his business to make and receive payments without incurring hefty the credit card charges and long transfer delays we all accept as the norm. He scrutinised how Paypal and ACH began, came up with a concept and convinced his bank to back his venture. He then worked on building the software that would allow the efficient transfer of money without any interchange fees.

Ben was an Xceptionalist from an early age. He recognized that “…all you need to do, a lot of the time, is decide what you want to do and just get it done.”

In 2001, while he was a senior in high school, he invested his life savings of $1,200 to start his first company, making audio speakers. He dropped out of the University of Northern Iowa to build the business, and by 2008 was turning over $1.5 million in annual sales. More sales led to higher credit card fees and the $55,000 a year bill became unacceptable to Ben.

When he couldn’t find an alternative in the market he became convinced that the only way was to build it himself. Over the next two years, in a typical Xceptionalist way, he figured out how to do it.

If I had met Ben at that stage I would have told him he was crazy. My Idea Killer would have tried to talk him out of proceeding, but I don’t think he would have listened because he was a true Xceptionalist. He was already well aware of the fact that knowledge will always provide plenty of reasons not to act.

“If you have enough information, you will definitely see the difficulties, Ben says. “You will be more inclined to stay with and justify the status quo. Remember part of doing something new is changing the information that fed into the past decision.“

Dwolla launched nationally in the USA in December 2010 and was moving $1 million a day in July 2011. Ben recalls “It was not a beautiful, predictable, calculated process. It was ‘Don’t go broke and don’t stop.’”

In a market overflowing with mobile payment services and digital cash schemes, Milne’s service is unique. It can be used in just about any scenario: at a cash register, from a phone or a desktop PC, person to person, business to business, bank to bank.

Merchants get the most obvious benefit: the recipient of a Dwolla transfer pays 25 cents per transaction over $10, but nothing for deals worth less than that. Compare that with the 2 – 3% plus 30 cents per transaction typical of credit cards and gateways to credit networks.

For consumers, the system is simple: they can send money to an e-mail address, phone number, Twitter account, or Facebook friend; the recipient will get a message prompting him or her to sign up with Dwolla to accept the money.

Banks benefit because Dwolla can move money in real time, a capability no other network has.


  • • Live life in the now.
  • • Take responsibility for your failures, remember you have another shot.
  • • Work on a project that has maximum impact.
  • • The biggest deals are based around relationships.
  • • Have people around you that you can disagree with respectfully.
  • • With enough information you will be more inclined to stay with and justify the status quo.
  • • Business is not rocket science.
  • • Don’t spend more money than you earn.
  • • You can’t get what you want until your customers get what they want.
  • • Apologize when necessary.

'Do! featured xceptionalist Ben Miilne from Dwolla

'Do! featured Xceptionalist Ben Milne from Dwolla is changing the way we do online banking forever!'



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Xceptional Execution trumps Idea Killer

Do!  featured Xceptionalist Ben Milne, Dwolla, Kevin Kelly Motivational Speaker

Do! featured Xceptionalist Ben Milne from Dwolla is changing the way we do online banking forever!'

Hi, my name is Kevin and I used to be an idea killer.
For almost a decade, my job was to detonate concepts for new small businesses before they reached the launch pad. I stopped potentially great ideas before they got to market.
‘Idea Killer’ was not the title on my business card – officially, I was a Feasibility Consultant – but ‘Idea Killer’ was a more accurate description of my role.
When clients brought me ideas for new small and medium-sized ventures, my task was to prepare a fancy, high-minded report analyzing whether the new business would fail or succeed.
For $10,000 a pop, I exhaustively analyzed dozens of diverse business ideas throughout my career. Some ideas may have never made it; some could have become global brands. The truth is, when I dashed these entrepreneurs’ dreams, I didn’t know what the future could have held.
What I did know was how to say “no” to an idea.
Here’s how I worked: You ask me to evaluate your new venture. We sit down together and you tell me about your vision for the business. You tell me about your proposed revenue streams. You outline why you believe your startup will succeed. It has a distinctive, creative culture, plans for employee engagement and is focused on the connection economy. Your business idea ticks all the buzzy boxes.
Then, in the name of being realistic and honest, I go away and find enough reasons why this venture cannot possibly succeed. It was always easy to find those reasons. A similar product already exists. It has more brand recognition and market share. You don’t have the experience to make this work. My list of ‘why-you-shouldn’t’ would be comprehensive and convincing.
As an Idea Killer, I would have issued a prognosis of failure to all of the game-changing business I came across when writing my latest book, Do!

Thankfully, after years of idea killing, I eventually learned some very important lessons, the most important being: the key to success does not lie in the idea, or the business plan or the market. It’s all a little less complicated than that.What really matters is the the Xceptional execution of an ordinary idea. Xceptional execution is the antidote for too much knowledge. Knowledge will always give you enough reasons not to act. Xceptional execution helps to work through fear and build confidence. It means taking the next step in spite of that knowledge with your decisions underpinned by clarity and understanding.

Xceptional execution brings results. To launch and lead a breakthrough company, you don’t need to invent the next light bulb. You don’t need $50,000 in the bank. You can start with what you have, exactly where you are.

My next blog will feature Ben Milne of This is a business idea that would I certainly have shot down in my days as an Idea Killer. Like all the companies that I will be blogging about, Dwolla’s success is a great example of the Xceptional execution of Ben’s ordinary idea.

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DO! featured on Hayzlett Book Club

Delighted to be featured in Jeffrey Hayzlett’s Book Club – a great opportunity to spread the DO! message.

Please join the conversation on:

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