Startups: Your Idea Is Worthless If You Can’t Execute

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The vitality of thought is in adventure. Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them. – Alfred North Whitehead

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Aside from their talented partnerships, these names have one other thing in common: they were able to execute their ideas in their own, successful ways.

On the other hand, history is fraught with names of unknown entrepreneurs whose ideas fell along the wayside due to poor execution.

Aspiring entrepreneurs embarked on their dreams of success in business with a single idea for a product or service which they believed will be the next big thing. However, in many cases, the execution of the idea fails to meet the expected results.

In Startup Execution Transcends the Idea From Day One, VC Martin Zwilling asserts: A startup begins with a great idea, but all too often, that’s where it ends. Ideas have to be implemented well to get the desired results. Good implementation requires a plan, and a good plan and good operational decisions come from good people. That’s why investors invest in entrepreneurs, rather than ideas.

Ideas should not be treated with veneration. Rather, as stressed countless of times before, successful execution is the key. To be successful, entrepreneurs must ensure that they have a plan to bring their ideas to fruition. Otherwise, they are bound to follow the path to failure of many of those that have gone before them. Focusing on execution is a model of rectitude for any business.

Entrepreneurs must ask themselves the following questions from the time they come up with an idea:

Do I have the technical know-how to turn my idea into a product? If not, will I be able to get people with the right skills on board?

Technical know-how isn’t the be-all and end-all. But it pays to have some technical knowledge about what will make your product run. If not, get someone who has the knowledge. Get that person on board as a partner. This know-how will prove useful later on, when you already have the product on hand. You’ll tap it to improve the product. You’ll need it to continue innovating. Once you have the right people on board, run your idea through them. A good team that can execute can debauch a specious idea any time

You should remember, though, that ideas are like fortuitous concourse; it changes constantly and must be iterated numerous times before coming up with something viable. So, if you find that your initial idea is not viable, go over it as you will with a wringer, then refine it; it may prove to be viable in a later iteration.

Will I be able to implement the idea fast?

The importance of fast but correct execution of an idea cannot be overemphasized here. If you can’t implement fast, you might be overtaken by events. Someone else might implement their own version of what you have in mind. Much worse is when that someone else’s idea proves to be better than yours.

Technologist Don Dodge, in First Mover vs. Fast Follower – Who Wins, maintains that the pace of innovation and disruption is increasing. Innovation cycles are now 1 year or less. The cell phone industry, particularly around Android, is producing new innovations every month.

If the answers to the two previous questions are Yes, do I have a market for my product?

Do not forego with market research. With it, you’ll be able to validate if consumers will indeed gobble up your product. If it turns in your research that there will only be a limited market for your product, go back to the drawing boards and refine your idea further.

In Your Idea is “Dead Simple,” Really?, entrepreneur Dave Parker writes that the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is starting a business they are passionate about without understanding if it will make money.

Venture capitalist Martin Zwilling, in 10 Top Reasons for First-Time Entrepreneur Failure, asserts that Idea has limited business opportunity. Not every good idea is a good business. Just because you passionately believe that your technology is great, and everyone needs it, doesn’t mean that everyone will buy it. There is no substitute for market research, written by domain experts, to supplement your informal poll of friends and family.

Will it provide a reasonable return on investment?

The only way you’ll attract investors in your product and your company is if it will make money for those investors. You have to sell your product to investors and tell them how they’ll be able to make money off it. Otherwise, you won’t get that much-needed startup capital.

Strategic advisors Karl Stark and Bill Stewart, in Why Your Idea Isn’t Worth Anything, writes: It’s astonishing how many entrepreneurs and even corporate executives focus on the great idea while looking past the fundamentals of how a business will make money and provide a return to capital providers.

How do I validate my startup idea assumptions? How do I collect data for market fit analysis? Once collected, do I know how to interpret the data?

You have to validate your assumptions about your product through metrics. Steer away from metrics that sugar-coat your assumptions; realistic metrics that allow you to make decisions on how to steer your product to success is what you should strive for. Split-tests, per-customer metrics, funnel metrics and cohort analysis, and keyword (SEM/SEO) metrics are the way to go. Serial entrepreneur Eric Ries discusses all these in his excellent Vanity Metrics vs. Actionable Metrics. In the article, Ries maintains that The only metrics that entrepreneurs should invest energy in collecting are those that help them make decisions. Unfortunately, the majority of data available in off-the-shelf analytics packages are what I call Vanity Metrics. They might make you feel good, but they don’t offer clear guidance for what to do.

How will I sustain my growth? How will I remain competitive? How do I adapt to changing market conditions?

Even if the business is able to execute well initially, it may be that it fails to respond to changes in the environment, leading it to lose ground to a competitor that is able to exploit changing market conditions. Nothing illustrates this better than the cases of such pioneering startups as AltaVista, Napster, Netscape, and Friendster. As we all know, these companies were eventually overtaken by competitors that came after them.

Martin Zwilling, in Startup Execution Transcends the Idea From Day One, writes: All too often, entrepreneurs posit a new technology or idea, without understanding that a successful business is a never-ending process of adapting and improving all the elements in a business – especially business model, processes, and people, as well as technology.

In Between Thought and Expression Lies a Lifetime, Andy Weissman had the following to say about idea execution: It’s what comes next that is so much more interesting – the point (the “lifetime”) between taking that idea for a new application or service and actually expressing it in a real form. Building it. Prototyping it. That’s when your ideas are subject to limits (technical, execution, market, financial) and those limits actually test your theses and tenets. Prototyping shows you where your assumptions were wrong, maybe, and how your idea may be even better than you thought. Most importantly, it subjects your idea to numerous unanticipated constraints.

As entrepreneurs, expect your original ideas to turn into disparaged vicissitudes. But don’t let them get you down. Learn from the mistakes of those that have gone before you, and make sure that your ideas turn into viable products and great enterprises. Follow the steps outlined above, and you’ll be one step closer to well-deserved success!


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