Why Ideas Matter And So Does Execution

by Ryan Healy on February 7, 2011

For the past year or so,  the tech world has been obsessed with the idea of the lean start up.  Essentially the lean start up is a set of principles, developed first by Steve Blank and now others like Eric Reis, that gives start ups a road map to hypothesize, test, and iterate on their products until they find the right “product market fit.”  The concept is fascinating, and I have to admit I’ve read Steve Blanks “Four steps to the Epiphany” three times, and I’m slowly but surely implementing the methodology into everything I do with Brazen.

A major part of the Lean Start Up methodology is the idea that start ups must be prepared to “pivot,” at any time.  If the product does not seem to be catching on, then try something completely new.  Don’t debate what to do next, just ship it, test it and analyze the results.   The new conventional wisdom says that no one is smart enough to figure out what people want, you just have to give them enough choices and they will tell you what they want by their actions.

The pivot has gone from novel to sexy to cliché in a matter of months, but the truth is, the pivot and the economics behind the lean start up methodology are at the heart of a very real entrepreneurial revolution that we are in the midst of. We are living in unprecedented times for entrepreneurs and I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.

However, I also see many dangers in this new way of building businesses.  The new rallying cry is that ideas do not matter, execution is everything.  I wholeheartedly disagree with this, and am happy to see some people standing up for the value of ideas. A poor idea with great execution won’t work, and pivoting to a new bad idea, no matter how great your execution is, still won’t work.

Idea’s are critical, as entrepreneurs we are creating the future and we need to be thinking about products that can help people, solve problems, create value and most importantly have repeatable, scalable business models at their core.

The cost of development and time it takes to launch a new product have decreased tremendously in the past few years, but this does not mean that the time and hard work it takes to come up with a new hypothesis for your new business model have decreased.  In fact, I would argue that because it is so easy to roll out and test new products, the ideas behind those products have become even more important.  Every start up team with solid engineers is on the same level from a technical standpoint, so the new “secret sauce” is in the well thought out, innovative, disruptive, game changing ideas that happen to have a business model embedded in them (see Groupon, Living Social, Kickstarter, etc.).

Another problem with de-emphasizing the importance of the idea behind your product is that it becomes very easy to give up on your idea if it doesn’t immediately take off.  Most great products are not immediately adopted by the population at large, only after the right tweaks, changes and ideas do they catch on.  Minimizing the value of the idea you are pursuing gives you permission to skip the hard work when something doesn’t work out perfectly.  An idea that you know, deep down in your gut, solves a very real problem, will eventually become a successful business if you are persistent and continue to pursue it in new and innovative ways.

I love where consumer facing technology is right now and I love where entrepreneurship is going, I’m convinced that we are in unprecedented times, I just hope that every up and coming entrepreneur doesn’t forget that building a business is about an idea, and a team, and support, and fundraising, and development, and A/B testing, and marketing, and sales and business development and a whole lot of hard work.

Sifting through a million variables to find a business model is the hardest thing you will ever do – I can speak from experience as I’m smack in the middle of it.  There is no short cut, there is no get rich quick scheme, the Lean Start up Methodology and the ability to Pivot do not give you an excuse to quit when things get hard.  They simply provide a framework for how to create a successful business from scratch.  Just remember, before there is creating a business, there is an idea.  And that idea, or some variation of it, will become your business.


John Lynn February 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Nice point about the value of the idea. I think the thing is that most of the people that are selling ideas short are people who can quickly and easily come up with new ideas. It’s so natural for them to come up with and see the revenue models of a new idea that it’s easy to discount those ideas. Especially since the cost to think up new ideas is so low. So, they place a higher value on someone who can execute because the cost to prove you can execute is much higher.

I absolutely agree with your point that the idea is what drives you when times are tough. I like to equate it to passion for an idea. That passion for an idea is sometimes all you have when the roller coaster of entrepreneurship hits bottom.

Rebecca Ryan February 7, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Ryan, I really liked this post. It seems that the herd mentality of running to one idea…and then the next…causes us to think like sheep, not like the nifty two-leggeds we are.

Great ideas + tireless execution are critical, but they don’t guarantee success. As you know, tweaking is also essential. Thanks for bringing some balance to the discussion.


Ryan Healy February 7, 2011 at 10:20 pm

@John interesting point about the people who are actually selling these ideas short. I never thought of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense. Also, love the point about passion, since it is such a roller coaster, that idea is what keeps you going, I know it’s helped me more than once.

@Rebecca tweaking is what its all about. One idea ends up being hundreds of tiny little ideas, when they all fit, then you have a business.

Harriet May February 7, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I really admire people who have the guts to become entrepreneurs. I think one of the important things to remember if you do take that route really seems to be to question everything as you go, never to do things just because that’s how it’s always been done. That’s what I got from reading Rework, anyway, which my dad gave me when he hired me for his startup. Although that’s not to say that you have to reinvent the wheel, but the rules are entirely different for startups, and I think the idea of “pivoting” illustrates that.

Dana Dwyer February 7, 2011 at 11:10 pm

It may be smart to pivot the solution but the value behind the original idea should stay the same. It is the value behind the idea that harnesses the passion that the focuses the energy that completes the tasks that build the profitable business.
Coach Dana K. Dwyer
Turning Small Business Owners Into Confident Business Leaders

Jamie Farrell February 8, 2011 at 2:31 am

While in complete agreement with your valuing the idea; I don’t think it has to be an “either/or”; the best teams I’ve worked with are those that have a great combination CEO/COO; typically the CEO drives the vision and the COO executes. In the last few years it appears that these ‘traditional roles’ have combined into one.

I’m interested in the idea of the ‘lean start up’ and how / why it is thought to be “new”? Did someone just coin it / give it a name? I can only speak for the start ups I’ve worked on, but our products were constantly changing and strategies changed direction based on daily analytics at times. We called it, “test, track, learn” and I believe it was a PG ‘phrase’. I’m not clear on how ‘lean start up’ and pivoting from one idea to another / testing is different from previous entrepreneurs???? Pls explain.

Edward - Entry Level Dilemma February 27, 2011 at 4:34 am

The other problem of devaluing ideas is that it can cause you to stray from your core business values and interests. I started a business in college building custom computers. When I shuttered it 7 years later, that was only 10% of my business, with the remainder being repairs, which I hate doing.

Paul March 5, 2011 at 4:40 am

I agree that the “pivot” is needed to survive. It is an essential lean principle. One area i don’t see mentioned or that is overlooked is the reason for the pivot. To be successful you need to think like your customer and your consumer. Some times these are not the same. Basically you need to give the consumer a product / experience of value and also satisfy the customer. The pivot is a risk mitigation exercise when something in the planning or market reasearch phase was missed or need s to be improved. Not just Entrepreneurs, but all businesses need to constantly change and adapt or they will die. They need constant innovation. If you launch on a technology platform and go to market but do not have aplan to be always ahead of the curve and innovative you will die. Many examples of this mistake in business such as Smith Carona, Kodak, etc….

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: