Your Ideas Aren’t Proprietary — Execution Is

This article was originally published by Inc. on Nov 21, 2014

Many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe their ideas are the key to their success. Yes, you need a good idea that meets a real need, but great ideas by themselves are actually worth very little.

About 15 years ago, I heard a venture capitalist give the best advice I’d ever heard: “We don’t consider ideas proprietary; we consider execution proprietary.”

Suddenly, it made sense why investors bet on bright people rather than bright ideas. It’s easy to have an idea. Inspiration strikes frequently among creative, savvy entrepreneurs. People come up to me all the time and say, “I have a great idea for a business.” But when I ask, “Do you love it enough to quit your job and go make it happen?” the answer is often no.

That’s why great execution trumps a good idea. What’s more, timely execution is best. Like George S. Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

Stop Worrying About Someone Stealing Your Idea

When entrepreneurs become fixated on the value of their ideas, they often believe that sharing an idea with other people will hurt them. This is a fatal mistake.

When you’re launching a new product or service, it’s important to talk to others to understand potential customers’ needs and make sure you’re fulfilling them in the best way possible.

Here are a few tips for bringing real value to your ideas in the beginning stages:

1. Don’t operate in stealth mode.

During the ideation phase, share your concept with anyone who will listen and gather feedback you can use to improve it. For several years, I worked closely with a brilliant inventor named Natan Parsons, who had almost 100 patents under his belt and invented the mechanism behind automatic flush toilets. He would always solicit feedback about products he had in the works from prospective customers. He’d tell people what he was doing, but not how–and it was the “how” that he patented.

Remember: If sharing your idea gives away all its value, it’s probably not a defensible idea to begin with.

2. Scope out the competition.

If you think you’re the only person who’s had your idea, you’re probably wrong. Go out and gather as much information as you can about your competitors. Then focus on how you’ll execute your idea differently.

In addition to direct competitors, you’ll also have competitors for “wallet share”–companies that are competing for the same dollars your customers would be spending on your product or service. For instance, Uber is a direct competitor of Lyft, but both companies are competing against taxicabs for wallet share.

3. Understand the “whys.”

Your idea may be great, but you also need the right team and the right timing. Being early to market can be just as bad as being late if customers haven’t yet recognized a need for what you have to offer. Similarly, I can tell you all about my idea for a remote-controlled hovercraft, but if I’m not a brilliant aerospace engineer, why would anyone bet on me to pull it off?

4. Don’t be afraid to share.

Once you understand the “why you” and “why now,” come up with a public description of your idea that you could share with anyone. Just make sure it doesn’t give away too many details about how you’re doing it. Then, get comfortable with sharing and gathering feedback.

5. Hire people who get stuff done.

It’s great to have visionary people on your team, but you also need people who revel in the details and execution. About 10 years ago, I read an article by a VC that’s shaped my hiring practices ever since. She said that she doesn’t care if people hold a PhD or an MBA; the only thing that mattered was the “GSD,” or people’s ability to “get s**t done.”

Once you accept that success doesn’t come from great ideas alone, you’ll feel more confident that no one can just pull your business out from under you. “Wantrepreneurs”–those who may have the idea, but not the follow-through–don’t build billion-dollar businesses, because what is needed is more than a eureka moment. You need the dedication to execute your idea better than anyone else.

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