Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's the Execution, not the Idea that Matters

A recent Slashdot article addressed a question from a Computer Science student about whether his ideas would be 'stolen' by the University. I am not going to directly address the question or get into the explanation of University IP ownership and Bayh-Dole. I'll leave that for someone else. :-)

But, what I though was interesting was something said by a commenter to the article. It was this anecdote:

Frank Herbert, author of Dune, told ... how he had once been approached by a friend who claimed he (the friend) had a killer idea for a SF story, and offered to tell it to Herbert. In return, Herbert had to agree that if he used the idea in a story, he'd split the money from the story with this fellow. Herbert's response was that ideas were a dime a dozen; he had more story ideas than he could ever write in a lifetime. The hard part was the writing, not the ideas.
Herbert might as well have been talking about technology. Don't get me wrong. Ideas are important. Research is critical to advancing our society. But when it comes to commercialization, it is only a small part of the puzzle.

Building a business involves a tremendous number of challenges completely unrelated to the technology itself. Building a team, finding capital, identifying a target market, creating a sales channel, designing complete products, printing sales collateral, finding efficient and low cost manufacturing, structuring partnerships, recruiting a strong board, raising more money, setting up customer service, drafting useful documentation, crafting whitepapers and example designs, legal issues, human resources, leasing office space, attending board meetings, making customer visits, going to trade shows ... I'd go on, but I'm out of breath. You need to do well in all of these areas and still get lucky if you want to have a successful startup business. That is called execution.

The bottom line is that customers, those people who pay our bills, care about your solutions, not your ideas. And if you don't execute and deliver a complete solution, you don't get paid.

At VentureLab, we look at ideas all day long. Many of them are brilliant, exciting, compelling and completely original. But we have to add in the cold reality of execution details and try to envision a path to the market that involves the hundreds of details completely unrelated to the original idea.

Keep coming up with ideas though, they are great places to start.


g.p. burdell said...

Well said. This is something people don't often realize, for whatever reason.

Stuart Truax said...

This point is further proven by how many businesses have the same core idea but merely have different markets, sales channels, etc. The business implementation of an idea adds a whole new set of variables.

Many scientists and engineers derive satisfaction from a technical concept being original or interesting, but this completely misses the point. In the end, science and engineering is undertaken with the end goal of advancing an economy. It is a means to end. New ideas are useful if: a) they achieve an end not otherwise acheivable, or b.)improve upon an old idea.
If an old idea perfectly fulfills an unsatisfied end, then use the old idea! It saves on R&D. Of course, this completely bores said scientists and engineers.