10 Strategic Building Blocks seemed a simple blog when I started it but it soon became apparent how much was contained within each of the 10 points, much more than was typically written in one blog. From that starting point has arisen this full series on building a startup, as I see it.
So here is part #1: The idea
The „idea“ of course is the origin of getting started and therefore is quite philosophical in its nature.
Being an entrepreneur is not about being in love with an idea, it’s about being in love with running a company.
(Max Levchin, Co-Founder of PayPal)
Having run different companies for over a decade now, I’d certainly agree with this statement to some extent. By loving what you do, you get yourself into the right state for executing your idea. However when you run into trouble, and you don’t know what to do, it’s often the idea and the vision that surrounds it, which keeps you going and pulls you through a time of difficulty.
This experience has shown me that ideas are vulnerable and perishable goods. They arise from the ocean of plain thoughts and form a distinct sound that has the potential beauty to stand apart from the rest of the noise. A bunch of ideas (just like sounds) harmoniously put together make a great song, which eventually can become a big hit on the radio.
But not every idea is a good idea
Learning which are those special ideas that are worth being taken from being a mere spark and turned into a fully fledged fire – while letting other, ordinary ones, pass, requires a great deal of practise and skill. Interestingly, already successful people often forget this point which leads, in my mind, to comments such as „ideas are overrated and it is all about the execution.“
My experience tells me that this is not entirely true. After all, if ideas are so easy, why don’t we have more beautiful songs? And why is it that every large corporation or government is putting together „think tanks“ to create an environment in which new ideas can be developed and innovation fostered?
Ideas deserve respect and responsibility
To me, treating ideas with the proper respect and giving them an existence, a right to be, is the first principle required to keep the source of (wherever) ideas come from ,open and flowing. Practising however what the inception of an idea really means, and the responsibilities that come with it, is equally challenging.
Without an idea, there is no initial point, there is no ignition. Without an intriguing and ambitious idea, it is hard to build a vision around it, find a co-founder and team to execute the vision with, turn the idea into a product and come up with a convincing story for investors or clients as to why the market needs this product now.
Ideas are ignition, but not energy
The energy required to execute an idea is gathered by the vision, the team and the step by step successes and failures condensed into the overall experiences learnt along the way. With minor exceptions, the average time required from founding a company to successful exit is currently estimated at around 10 years.
Incepting an idea is therefore just like in the movie Inception: once that spark is turned into fire (or from noise into song), for an entrepreneur who loves building and running a company, there is simply nothing stopping it from becoming a successful reality.
The dangers of ideas
There are a few dangers that we should be aware of:
- Not being able to separate the good ones from the bad ones: the vision and execution around the idea here is equally important as the circumstances under which an idea is presented to the world.
- It is not always the person who has the idea who is actually the one who commercializes it: many times, inventors are great at inventing, but they are better off finding a partner to take the product to market, license their technology and even to turn the invention into a sellable product.
- Not every idea is possible: especially the most ambitious ideas usually have incredibly high barriers to succeed and hard challenges have to be overcome for the idea to be successful: if for your song to sound well you require a specific instrument that hasn’t been invented yet, chances are your music may never be played, or, at a time when you can’t commercialise it.
What then, can you – if you’re taking your first idea and turning it into a startup – take from this?
Ultimately, for every idea there is a time: if you try to build a business with a great idea and great product at the wrong time, it simply won’t work. Similarly you can have a moderate product, but the idea hits the current “zeitgeist” and you can become a big success.
Therefore it’s not only a question of doing everything right, but also a matter of being lucky enough to be around with your idea at the right time and not to forget how big a time and energy commitment it actually takes to turn that idea into a successful business.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/86979666@N00/