Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ideas - important for an entrepreneur?

I was at an Open Coffee Club Bangalore (OCCB) meetup a few weeks at the Thoughtworks premises on Airport Road, when one of the Thoughtworks employees asked a question which has been on my mind for ever.
"How do I get the idea for my startup?"
Certainly something that, in various forms, many of us ponder, in those moments when we read of Sabeer Bhatia and Hotmail, or Steve Chen and Youtube, or perhaps in the future, Prateek Dayal and Muziboo ;).

But after being in 1.05 startups, I feel that the idea is a very romanticized version of the startup reality show. Primarily because it's the easiest thing for an outsider to relate to. The idea of an idea as the prime mover is very easy to fall in love with. What's easier than having a brilliant idea, and then quickly working it out to make it the best bang since the Big One?


Reality is very different IMHO. In reality the idea is probably fifth in the list of things responsible for the success of a startup. I'd put the order thusly,
  1. Execution
  2. Marketing
  3. Sales
  4. Iteration of your idea
Execution here means operational and execution excellence. Something that you'd be hard pressed to get funding for, but you can't get success without. Marketing and sales are so much more important than most of us engineering types estimate that it's not even funny. Good marketing and sales people will drive the creation and iteration of the product to something that will make money, as opposed to being simply amazing technically.

Iterating the idea is critical. You must be prepared to shape, reshape, sculpt, and re-sculpt your ideas and implementation. Practically no company has become a success with their first product idea. Most went through multiple iterations, before coming up with something that worked, sold, and made money.

What does this mean? If you don't have what seems to be the idea of the century don't worry. If you really want to start a company, go ahead and do it. Make sure you have an awesome team. That'll probably carry you further than any thing else. Keep working on things, and get better each time. Survival is a key attribute of successful startups.

Vet your idea and the execute the hell out of it. Do it to the best of your teams abilities. If there's no way to sell it, shelve it or salvage enough out of it to start on your next shot. That's the long, tough, arduous way to success. You can start with anything, but go at it enough, with good enough understanding of the market and you will succeed.

Best of luck starting up :)