I’m beginning to think the common wisdom that “ideas are useless, execution is everything” is wrong. I suspect the original intent of this mantra was that ideas without execution are useless, which makes sense. But then that somehow morphed into “ideas are useless” and people began to undervalue ideas.
Ideas are extremely valuable. Here’s why:
Ideas determine how hard you need to work.
The better your idea, the easier it is to execute. If you come up with a bad idea, you will have to work extra hard to make it successful. You will spend endless effort convincing people that your product is valuable. When they aren’t convinced, you’ll need to add extra polish to somehow differentiated it from others. You will spend your energy making your product look good instead of making your product better, because it is held back by a bad idea.
The best ideas sell themselves. If you have a great idea, customers will want to purchase your product. They will line up at the door, they will buy on day one, they will tell their friends. Your product will sell because people see the value in what you are doing. You are solving a problem they have and they are excited to use it.
This is why many companies that have great ideas have no sales team. They do minimal marketing. The ideas do all of that for them. Their customers don’t need to be convinced because they’ve already convinced themselves of the value.
The more specific your idea, the easier it is to execute. If you can come up with an extremely focused idea, that probably means you have less to build. Extremely focused ideas tend to be simple, but they solve a very specific problem for a specific set of people. Trying to solve a problem for the masses probably means a complex solution to account for a variety of tastes. Complexity slows execution down and risks failure for trying to please everyone. Simple means ignoring everyone except your chosen market. But it takes a specific idea to know what to build for a specific market.
Most of these specific ideas are niche companies, which means you probably haven’t heard of them. I came across a company recently – Simple Analytics that tracks website visits without invading user privacy. It’s really as simple as it sounds. It’s run by 2 people who pull in around $7k/mo from paying subscribers. The idea was that small business value simple tracking and users value privacy.
The execution is really not that complicated. It’s just a dashboard and some tracking code. Millions of people are capable of building a site like that. But only these guys had the great idea that enabled the simple execution. Ironically, the lack of tracking individual users (sold as a feature) makes execution even easier. There are thousands of companies like this, based on specific niche ideas that you probably haven’t heard of.
Anyone Can Execute
Without an idea, you have nothing to execute. Millions of people can code, and are capable of setting up the components required to run a business or at least pay someone who can. But so few have truly great ideas that are fundamental to setting up the business in the first place.
Ideas Create Margin
You could pick any old idea. If it’s a bad idea – something that doesn’t actually work or that people don’t want to buy – does it matter how great you execute? But if you have a truly amazing idea, that can make up for poor execution.
People have amazing tolerance for flawed products targeted exactly at their need. There might be only a single company that offers the niche solution. The “company” is probably run by just a few people, maybe even part time. Big companies probably see the opportunity as a waste of time.
What happens when the customers get the product and realizes it has a lot of rough edges and doesn’t perform as well as they hoped? Most of them won’t be upset. Instead, they are so glad that someone is solving their problems, they forgive the flaws. Those customers felt heard, they feel that someone sees their problem and is trying to fix it. They almost become a kind of cheerleader, hoping the company stays afloat to continue to iterate. Why? Because the customer appreciates the idea above the execution.
You can find people to help you. Your customers will put up with flaws if they love your idea enough. Great ideas buy you a lot of margin.
Execution Requires Ideas
Ideas aren’t just important at the beginning. Great execution requires great ideas continually. The starting idea might be the most critical, but ideas must be constantly flowing to make important decisions. Great companies are able to adapt and change because they have good ideas.
Ideas are the oxygen of a company. Once a company stops generating new ideas and focuses only on execution, they quickly become stale and irrelevant.
Why Ideas Fail
Most people undervalue ideas because they hear them all them time. Uber for x, slack for x, zoom for x. And most of the ideas are bad ideas.
They are ambiguous. They aren’t flushed out with details. They aren’t specific. Actually, they aren’t really ideas as much as fleeting thoughts. A real idea has plan right next to it. If you find a successful company and look back at their original idea, you’ll probably find a grand plan nearby, not a one sentence slogan.
Flushing out an idea with details is difficult. It forces you to explain the specifics of your product. It requires you to identify your exact audience. It is not as easy as it sounds. But once you’ve hit those posts, you have something worth analyzing and on the road to a great idea.
Ideas are underrated. Execution is important, but it is much easier with a good idea. Choose a good idea.