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Does Startup Idea Matter?

Identifying ideas as less important an element in the process of building a successful company has become a fashion in recent times. Ideally for an entrepreneur who starts a business idea is the biggest asset. A shitty idea remains shitty no matter how great your execution is. Execution is important. Maybe it is a lot more important than having an idea and doing nothing or executing it poorly. But great execution will take you only too far if your idea is not good enough.

Examples of failures due to poor execution are prevalent. Similarly, examples of failures because of a shitty idea are equally prevalent. The most recent example of such is the anonymous social app ‘Secret’, team Secret executed it well and it experienced extraordinary growth for a while and then it started to see the dip and then down for once and all. The reason was not that they did not execute it well, but because the idea of an anonymous social media app does not work. Social media requires credibility; people need to have a reason to spend time on social media. And for an anonymous social media, it is too difficult to do that. The idea was not good enough to go big.

A great business starts with a great idea, not great execution. You need something first which has the right kind of product-market fit otherwise you will only hit the wall and will never be able to break it. No one starts a company right away. Starting a company right away is a bad idea. You start with an idea. You test the water and then you move on.

A startup is like a puzzle, you know there is an answer but you can’t exactly point it out right away. If your company is not a puzzle to most people, it means your idea is either too generic or a derivative idea which can be replicated easily.

When we are talking about an idea, it is not only a mere idea. It is the scalability of the idea, growth potential, market size, defensibility, and more. When you are thinking about an idea and weighing whether you should go forward or not you not only think about product or service, you think about all these things.

A startup is like a puzzle, you know there is an answer but you can’t exactly point it out right away. If your company is not a puzzle to most people, it means your idea is either too generic or a derivative idea that can be replicated easily. A good idea is hard to replicate because the founder who comes up with the idea controls so many things and can explore many parts of that idea. Let’s explore a few aspects of why idea comes first and is critical to the success of a startup, even for successful execution:

1. Great idea makes execution easy: great idea excites people. It draws lots of early attention and support. Consequently, it becomes easy to find great people, build a good team and execute.

2. It is hard to replicate: Monopoly makes a good business. If your idea is easy to replicate it is never going to be a big business. A good idea is hard to replicate thus giving a good chance to build a big business.

3. Startup is a long game: you don’t build a business overnight. It takes time. According to Sam Altman of YC, it is ten years. And if you are not passionate about something you are not going to put ten years of life into it.

That’s where the importance of an idea comes in.

Then and again, having a great startup idea is hard. Good ideas are often overlooked or seemed too early a move or sound terrible. That’s an advantage. It cuts off the competition.

If you are up to building a mediocre business, the idea does not matter. Yes, the best coffee shop will be one that is good at making good coffee with other things. But you can’t make every coffee shop a Starbuck. Starbuck is not a coffee shop, it is an idea, a vision that is difficult to replicate whereas a coffee shop selling coffees and making money is simple and easy to build.

When people talk about great execution and the importance of execution, there is a point to it. No great idea is going to bring you success unless you put it into work better than everyone else. But it does not mean a great execution is all. Great execution comes late into the game. You start with an idea; if your idea is too narrow and does not have a good product-market fit a great execution will only do so much.

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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