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The Billion Dollar Napkin

Updated: Mar 12

Turning a Well-Known Startup Myth into an FC Exercise


The entrepreneurship world is full of myths.


Misconceptions about startups are pervasive in the news, film, and television, where entrepreneurship is cast as a glamorous endeavor full of “eureka” moments from genius college dropouts.


One of the more charming of these myths is the idea of a billion-dollar cocktail napkin: picture a down-and-out founder scribbling cryptically visionary ideas on a crumpled up napkin in a crowded dive bar.


In fact, the recent film Glass Onion made use of this cliche in a humorous way: suspiciously unintelligent tech billionaire Miles Bron flaunts the billion-dollar idea scrawled on a cocktail napkin, the concept that was the foundation of his tech empire. We later come to find to no real surprise that this revolutionary idea was not his own, but rather stolen from his once co-founder.



The importance of visual brainstorming in design thinking


Despite the film’s satirical spin, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that it is not purely startup mythology. Visual brainstorming is central to the design thinking process and is an effective method to elaborate ideas during both divergent and convergent thinking.


In design thinking, designer and entrepreneurs alike will often jot down as many ideas as they can, using sticky notes and simple drawings to help illustrate their ideas to their teams.


Often, our first instinct is to translate our ideas into words. However, visual thinking can help elicit non-verbal connections between distinct ideas and allow our collaborators to gain clearer visions of what we are trying to build.



Using cocktail napkins to spark great ideas at the Founder Challenge


At the Founder Challenge Spring 2023 launch event, we asked our new cohort of student entrepreneurs to write down whatever idea they want to work on down on a cocktail napkin. And the resulting sketches, diagrams, and venture ideas are truly great!




These snapshots of visual thinking display the diverse entrepreneurial interests and ambitions that are present across the NYU campus (not just at our business school!). These sketches and doodles exemplify the type of community that we are building through the Founder Challenge. Our main goal is to facilitate entrepreneurial action in would-be student founders, to turn ambitious entrepreneurial ideas into founder experience. This cocktail napkin experiment is a major success in the ongoing effort to catalyze the entrepreneurial and creative talent on the NYU campus.NYU campus.NYU campus.YU campus.U campus. campus.campus.ampus.mpus.pus.us.s..





What we do at the Founder Challenge


These snapshots of visual thinking display the diverse entrepreneurial interests and ambitions that are present across the NYU campus (not just at our business school!). These sketches and doodles exemplify the type of community that we are building through the Founder Challenge. Our main goal is to facilitate entrepreneurial action in would-be student founders, to turn ambitious entrepreneurial ideas into founder experience. This cocktail napkin experiment is a major success in the ongoing effort to catalyze latent entrepreneurial talent on the NYU campus.


We hope to archive these napkins until a later time when our Spring Cohort of student founders can look back on these as a memento of where they started, comparing how far their idea pivoted from its original concept or as a reminder of how many hours of action they had to put in to transform their ideas into a companies and their work into founder experience.


While we wait for our spring cohort of student founders to execute on their entrepreneurial visions, we encourage you to take a look at last fall's cohort of founders, who worked on their own diverse ideas



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