Last week, I spoke to a friend with a business idea. Months before, when he shared the idea with some people close to him, they discouraged him from pursuing it. I was shocked— it was actually quite a good idea! If he had pursued it all those months ago, it’s quite possible that he would now have a product (or at least a prototype) that people could be benefitting from right now. It got me thinking: are there other people out there with great ideas but little or no encouragement? If you need some support, here are a few pointers.

An idea is just an idea.

Usually, when someone comes up with an idea for a service or a product, the conversation quickly turns to “starting a business.” This can be intimidating. Indeed, it’s actually inaccurate. On day one, you don’t have a fledgling business — what you have is an idea.

An idea is merely a thought. It’s a creation of the mind concerning what could be. Therefore, you can be very liberal about what you do with it. You can’t break it, you can’t lose it; it’s just an idea. So even if, like my friend, you encounter people who criticize it, they can’t really impact your idea in any way.

The same is true regarding the fear I hear from many budding entrepreneurs about someone “stealing” their business idea. The truth is, because an idea is merely a thought, it has little, if any, value. All of the value in a business idea is in its execution. It’s the same with fiction writing. The basic idea of “boy meets girl” has been utilized by writers from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Jane Austen. Similarly, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook are all social networks — platforms via which you communicate and share various forms of media with your friends and the world. The idea is essentially the same, but in each case, the execution is different.

An idea is a necessary, but insufficient, element of a business. You should share your idea, ask for advice and get opinions, but don’t let anyone decide whether your idea is good or bad; it’s just an idea until you do something with it.

You don’t have to start a business. Start an experiment.

Another word for idea is hypothesis, and this leads us into the work of someone who many of us entrepreneurs have to thank for helping us see our entrepreneurial endeavors in a new and revealing light. Eric Ries is the author of The Lean Startup, a book that proposes “every startup is a grand experiment” to test the viability of your business idea. No one can be sure whether an idea is viable. You can’t work it out in your head. You have to build something (even if it’s quick and dirty) and see what happens.

Your experiment will center around what The Lean Startup describes as a minimum viable product (MVP):

“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

For example, at a 2007 design conference in San Francisco, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia took pictures of their apartment, put them up on a simple WordPress website and ended up housing three paying guests for the duration of the conference. Thus began Airbnb. One of the great things about this story? It demonstrates just how little you have to lose by testing out your idea. The worst thing that could come from Brian and Joe’s experiment was an empty apartment with no guests. They would have learned the idea, or at least that particular iteration of it, did not work. The key, to paraphrase Eric Ries, is to build something with which you can test demand, measure the response of users and learn from your experiment.

That’s what I did with Books Africana. I had an idea: it would be useful to have a single place where you could find books by people from Africa and the African Diaspora. Within a week or so, I had the website up and I started testing my idea. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it proves the point that my idea is actually something people need, and I can work with users to make it better.

Just do it!

The truth is, it’s easier than ever to start a business. Things such as email, cloud computing, e-commerce and social media put tools that were once only available to a select few in your hands. Website builders such as Squarespace, WordPress and Wix enable you to build a good-looking site with ease. Signup pages such as Launchrock, Megaphone and Ontrapages allow you to cheaply test demand. MOOCs such as Coursera and Treehouse help you to develop the skills to build applications that people will use and hopefully love!

If you have an idea for a product or service or website or project, I encourage you to take a step and test it out. At worst, you’ll invest your time and effort in a learning experience.

Have you followed through on a big idea? Tell us about it in the comments below.