Startups: The Idea Is Not Enough

Photo by Marcin Wichary via Flickr CC

Ideas are like sphincters; everyone has a few, forty to be exact. Have you considered why, given such a tremendous reservoir of ideas, entrepreneurs, inventors, impresarios and industrialists aren’t tripping over one another on the way to the bank? The answer is … wait for it!


Without execution, an idea is little more than a fart in the wind. Are you actually laboring under the illusion that an original idea exists? Do you think Edison was the first to conceive the idea of a phonograph or Samuel B. Morse, the telegraph? Just Google “who invented the telegraph” and you’ll see what I mean. Many people are blessed with ideas, even visions, but those remembered by history are the inventors, entrepreneurs, impresarios and industrialists who take an idea or concept and execute its successful transition to a marketable product or service. I’ve written about the important role execution plays in any startup. If you missed Startups: Your Idea Is Worthless If You Can’t Execute, please take a few minutes to do so, as this piece expands on those themes and concepts, specifically:

  • Technical know-how
  • Rapid deployment
  • Marketability
  • Return on investment
  • Sustainability

Technical Know-How

That you have a technical understanding of what makes your product tick is a given. The technical know-how I’m speaking of is the ability to convert that idea into a marketable product. The journey from concept to product can be an arduous one. Great ideas can wither on the vine if the entrepreneur is unwilling to recognize his limitations. In Geoffrey James’ article, 3 Words That Gain Instant Credibility, he says,

“When it comes to credibility-building, the three most powerful words in the English language are: “I don’t know.”

We all have limitations. It is essential for the entrepreneur to seek out the knowledge necessary to fill any voids he has in terms of expertise. Nature abhors a vacuum and vacuums can suck the life from your idea.

Rapid Deployment

Life is fast, business is faster. Moving at the speed of business is an uphill battle. Innovation is occurring at light speed. Successful entrepreneurs don’t just keep up; they take the pole position and lead the race from the starting flag to the winner’s circle.


I like my idea … my friends and family like my idea … isn’t that enough? Unfortunately—no! Your idea must appeal to a market sufficiently capacious to meet profit needs and objectives. I am reminded of the newly-minted life insurance sales rep who, after selling policies to family, friends and close acquaintances, finds he is out on his ear because he ran out of customers. An idea cannot succeed unless it has broad appeal, certainly well beyond appealing to family and friends. It is imperative the target market is properly defined and of sufficient size to support the enterprise. Expertise in the marketing discipline is extremely important, so if you cut expenses here, you are cutting your throat.

Return on Investment

Show me the money! Securing funding for your idea is can be an excruciating process in the best of circumstances. Unless you and your team have the ability to demonstrate to potential investors how the idea will produce a return on their investment you are a dead man walking. Solid execution demands that you have a fiscal plan, well documented and based in reason. Obviously this plan must demonstrate that your idea will generate a profit.


The idea must have a future. I may be stating the obvious here, but for an idea to succeed there must be a profitable, sustainable market for your product or service. The best ideas are those with the potential to evolve into better ideas. Just as the telegraph, led to radio and radio led to television, an idea with an innate potential for growth and innovation is priceless.

Sustainability, in this context, includes the ability to build on the idea through innovation, maintain an advantage in the market you have defined and plans to react positively to changing market conditions. Ideally, you will be able to create an “economic moat” that will protect your idea from competition.

Last Word

Ask ten entrepreneurs why start-ups fail and you are sure to get ten different responses. There are countless reasons for business failure but if you examine each response, however varied the responses may be, the root cause can invariably be traced back to a failure in execution at some level.


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