Simon Barker debates which is more important to a startup company's success; the idea or the execution. There's only one way to find out.
NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, England – As most of you know by now, I am a PhD student in Electrical Engineering up here in the north of England and I also co-run a small company called Slotzz that makes bespoke iPad and iPhone cases.
This week we had the honor of being shortlisted for a Shell Live Wire awardso if any of you are feeling generous it would be a great help if you would visit the Shell Live Wire website and vote on our video (sadly you have to sign up but it’s free and only takes a minute). This along with a redesigned website means the business has had quite a start to 2011.
All this entrepreneurial stuff has got me thinking about the core idea of being an entrepreneur. Since I became interested in business I have heard that it is the idea that is the key to success. You’ve got to have a good and original idea to even have a shot at making it. However, once I started learning about entrepreneurship more formally and began looking into the process of starting a business it soon became apparent that the idea may not, as I had been told, be king.
To start a business there has to be an idea, be it original or recycled, someone has to decide that they want to sell a product or a service.In the case of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg was implementing his spin on social networking with the focus on college/university students. Bill Gates started Microsoft, but not on the idea of Windows, it took ten years to make its world dominant flagship product!
In both of these examples there was an idea that ultimately landed the companies' global success, but the biggest of them did not achieve success based on the initial “eureka!” concept. Microsoft didn’t start out selling Windows, it started out selling a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800 hobbyist computer. I am too young to really know what that is but I know it’s not Windows! As far as originality goes, Facebook was not the first social networking site. There were Bebo, mySpace and even Hi5 before it.
So how did Microsoft make it to global success if Windows wasn’t their first idea? Just the same way as Facebook did, their team executed well, took advantage of opportunities and had a very strong leader as their CEO. Another example of how important it is a company executes an idea and how key a good team is to success is Paypal.
They were seen to be taking on the banks so getting it right was vital. Paypal, in the early days, sounds like a remarkable place to work. Among other things everyone was highly accountable, worked on one task and meetings of more than three people were deemed suspect and often disbanded if inefficient (something which many of us may wish to be adopted as industry standard! Maybe with an IEEE project number?. Apart from the $1.3 billion sale to eBay in 2002 a measure of how successful the Paypal model was is the number of companies it’s early employees have gone on to create: YouTube, TeslaMotors, Linkedin, Yelp and a few more.
So obviously there is something to be said for the execution of an idea, many investors believe that the idea is quite unimportant and the team makes or break the investment deal. I personally can’t see how the idea could ever be totally dismissed as no matter how good the team, a bad idea is a bad idea! Having said that, I’m sure there are thousands of good ideas which have failed due to a poor team. If you can think of any notable ones please add them in the comments below.
Sadly this is my last post on EE Times as their Student Entrepreneur. I’ve started writing up my thesis, which is taking up a surprising amount of brain power, and my responsibilities at Slotzz are growing, so I feel this is a good time to move on and let someone else pick up the torch of being the EE Times Student Entrepreneur. I’d like to thank everyone for their interest, especially those who have commented - no matter what the comment was you have added to the debate in a positive way and been very interesting. If you wish to contact me directly please feel free to email me or follow me on Twitter at simonbarker87 - or even better, if you’ve got an idea for a cool technology company drop me a line!
Absolutely. A good idea is important; yet, a good execution can't be ignored. I believe a good idea can be killed by a bad execution; a fair idea can be successful with excellent execution. The idea doesn't have to be new; yet, it can't be totally old. At least, there are 2 aspects of idea - technology and business model. A trade among 3 factors - technology, business model and execution - will bring your company to a new level.
Good Luck to your company and your journey.
Very true that it can't be a totally old idea - I think only the fashion industry can get away with that one and even then they call it "retro" to get round the fact it's old!
Thanks for the best wishes
Success in the marketplace requires both a good idea and flawless execution.
I have in the past used this relay race analogy: A great engineering team runs so well together, they are unbeatable at running laps around the track and smoothly passing the baton from one runner to the next. A great management team makes sure they are running on the right track. You can't win if you show up at the wrong venue, no matter how fast you are.
Good luck Simon with your thesis and with Slotzz. I wish you continued success in your future pursuits.
That's an excellent analogy - I've never heard it put quite like that before.
Thanks for for the best wishes I'm slowly chipping away at the thesis - fortunately I've got a few publications so that helps
exactly, an idea can change the world. sometimes back i was told that if someone who fills petrol dreams and excutes correctly he can very well own petrochemicals factories and that's a reality. good luck with your doctorate work...
Nice article. I agree with what is being told Idea, execution both are important. But we are forgetting one important aspect here - "Marketing"
Your job starts when you complete making that product. what you want is people to buy the product which you build.
I guess marketing is the most toughest part because you have to convince others to use your product. Just my thoughts.
It's a shame is the last.
I hope I see Slotzz' cases in the store shelves soon.
And agree, the idea isn't all. There must be execution and follow through. Is like throwing a basketball to the hoop. If there's not enough follow through the ball won't have the correct direction and spin (remembering the college years :-) ).
Thanks for you comments over the past 10 months or so - all good things come to an end though.
Retail sector is our next target so one day you may see Slotzz in store
My college sports analogy would revolve around rugby and having a decent scrum half I guess :-) wow, three sports references in on one post!
Simon, your blog will be sorely missed. Reading what you've been going through (in real time) and finding responses from EE Times readers to your blog on this forum have been a real pleasure.
The best of luck with your venture and thesis; and don't be a stranger, come back and share your experience from time to time!
DesignCon fans, the time has come! If your work concerns signal integrity, power integrity, or the interference between the two in high-speed designs, then DesignCon is the conference for you to show your work and get feedback from your peers.