This column is by Sathyvelu Kunashegaran, Director, Infinite Ventures Malaysia
People who know me well, will know that I give away ideas freely to anyone who asks me for advice.
1. One of the defining features of an entrepreneur is her ability to generate ideas. But an idea is just that — an idea. An idea is
NOT a product.
NOT a business.
NOT a patent.
NOT a trademark.
NOT a copyright.
2. Ideas are cheap and plenty. Regardless of how great your idea is, there are probably dozens (if not, hundreds) who have had it before you (but, failed to execute).
What matters is the ability and drive to execute. Someone needs to put lots of sweat equity into an idea to give it form and function.
One great example of an ordinary idea with remarkable execution is bottled water. 40% of all bottled water is tap water in a bottle. Jim Gaffigan (below) captured how I really feel about the bottled water (stop and watch it, it’s super funny).
Another example is cigarette or smoking. It’s expensive, it kills you, it smells bad, it’s addictive, it burdens the public health system, and everyone knows this. Any other product with these characteristics would, rationally, be illegal. But people still smoke because tobacco companies are clever devils who know how to execute.
3. In the startup phase, (almost) no-one will give you money for an idea even if you have a proven ability to execute that business idea. Potential funders want to see that these ideas have been tested in the market — even if only on a micro scale.
If you go to VC firms with a brilliant idea that you’ll tell them about if they sign a nondisclosure agreement, most will tell you to get lost. That shows how much a mere idea is worth. The market price is less than the inconvenience of signing an NDA. — Paul Graham of Y Combinator
4. People falsely believe that generating great ideas is hard. It’s actually quite easy if you follow these simple steps.
Take a bunch of people with diverse backgrounds.
Set them loose on a problem that few have attempted to solve before.
Watch the magic happen.
For example, the Kickstarter popular product, Nest Thermostat was created by a bunch of product designers and developers from top brands from different tech industry ( e.g. Tony Fadell from Apple and Phillips, Matt Rogers and Shige Honjo from Apple, Erik Charlton from Logitech, Chip Lutton from Sun Microsystems, etc).
5. You don’t need an original idea to become successful. Many successful companies became successful by perfectly executing an unoriginal idea.
Why? Because first movers/innovators more often that not fail to understand the market as well as their competitors and are usually annihilated by their competitors.
- Google was not the first search engine. Google did not invent monetization through search (Overture did).
- Facebook was not the first social network. It was a clone of HouseSYSTEM and Myspace.
- Zynga did not invent Farmville, they took the idea from another game called Farmtown.
- The iPod was not the first music player.
- Starbucks didn’t invent the notion of “fair trade coffee,” any more than they were the first company to sell a cup of brew.
6. An idea is never really the end of a project. In fact, the million dollar NDA protected idea might just be an initial idea for a big project. So, where does it end?
A Skype call?
A business plan?
A pivot or two?
With Series A/B/C funding?
With a Google exit?
The answer can be any of the above. Good products involve a series of ideas executed continuously.
Ideas are incomplete by their nature. Even when experts get ideas, they’re often only the first of many steps to a solution, and contain many assumptions that need to be validated. For example, IPV6 was a great idea that was designed with little or no thought as to how the transition would be handled (failed execution).
The problem is that most people think that the lifecycle of a product go from idea to execution. But, it’s normally way complicated than that. It’s most probably will be more like idea→mini execution→ idea → execution → idea→another idea→executing→refining→success!
Take, for example, Instagram. The app started out as a social game that meshed Mafia Wars with Foursquare, went through few different iterations and tweaks (i.e. A string of ideas and mini-executions), and finally, ended up as a social camera app that captured 1M users in the first 3 months.
The iPhone and iPad weren’t inventions, they were highly skilled executions of a series ideas that had long existed. Jobs’ success wasn’t coming up with the idea for a tablet computer, others, such as Microsoft, had done it long before Apple. His success was that he, with a large team of others, managed to execute on that idea in such a way as to make it a huge success.
Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently. And it’s that process that is the magic. — Steve Jobs
So, when I openly share the ideas that I have, people have the tendency to say:
How if someone steals your idea?
This makes me laugh because unless you have the cure for AIDS or cancer, no one’s going to steal your idea.
1. The are not as enthused about the idea as I am.
2. Executing even the best idea in the world takes years and a lot of money. Most people are too pre-occupied with their own lives to steal mine and go through the trouble of executing it.
3. On the investor’s side, if the investors ever steal it, no one would ever come to them again. So, it’s highly unlikely for investors to do that.
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