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 award so 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!