I sometimes get pitches from people who have grandiose plans.
Think of the term "physics crank," but applied to conceptual companies rather than perpetual motion machines. Two prominent examples (but far from the only ones):
- A calligrapher and accountant with no entrepreneurial experience who wanted to create an electronic journal that would allow people to "quantify their states of mind," as part of the greatest productivity/creativity enhancement system the world had ever seen. We were friends when I was in college, and this was my first exposure to the type. At first I lumped him in with other friends who were starting companies; he'd drawn up a logo and printed business cards and it all seemed very convincing. But after a few "meetings" that mostly involved scribbling Danielewski-esque charts in a notebook, I realized that all of his research and passion weren't actually going anywhere.
- Someone who reached out to me recently about creating a new form of social cryptocurrency that would allow people to collectively vote on corporate actions, to be enforced by threat of boycott. They sent me a 50-page PDF which contained no information on any practical steps to establish or test the currency, but a lot of musings on rising inequality and the will of the people. It was obvious that the document (which included dozens of charts) had taken weeks to produce. The author mentioned having reached out to many people to ask questions about getting attention from funders (I seem to be the only person who responded).
In both cases, a self-educated person with an altruistic mindset got their mind snagged on a project that had no clear way of manifesting in reality, and they couldn't unsnag themselves.
I don't feel any qualms about breaking off situations like this early on with a polite "no," but they still fill me with intense clueyness.
I wish there were a story I could tell these people that would help them understand the way businesses actually work (and, more broadly, the means by which new useful things can actually be introduced to the world). But I've found it difficult to penetrate the mindset of:
"I have a big idea, just like [insert charismatic tech billionaire], and I just need one good break to make it happen. The world is ready for this!"
Asking about how they plan to test their idea sometimes helps a bit, but what I really want is a message that serves as a sledgehammer of "that's not a business and will never be a business and you are only going to be disappointed if you keep this up."
Has anyone reading this had experience with similar situations before? If you managed to bring the afflicted person to their senses, how did you do it?
(Examples don't just have to be startups; other big projects seem equally relevant.)