Ravi Mohan's Blog

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Idea Bottleneck That Isn't

One of my friends was talking about doing a startup in Bangalore. This is a conversation that comes up regularly. I tried to get a startup off the ground twice, but failed because the people who I wanted to work with didn't live in Bangalore and I didn't want to move.

Those attempts isn't what this post is about. Because this friend was talking about a startup, and wanted some people to work with him , I spent some time talking to other friends who might be interested (I am well connected to interesting, technically capable people who are hungry for success and money).

One question I keep hearing is "What about ideas? Do you have an idea?". I have never understood this question. Generating decent ideas has never been a problem for me. I could generate 20 workable ideas in 20 minutes. And repeat that exercise a few times before I need to pause.

The first time I encountered this "idea bottleneck" concept I didn't pay it much heed. But then someone I respect said I was not paying enough attention to "finding an idea" if we were to attempt that hypothetical startup. So I reached into my mental pile of ideas and gave him an idea to work with, while we work through other issues. He seems happy about it and sent me a link showing that a company with a similar idea (actually a trivial subset) had been acquired for 50 million $ cash.

Another friend heard of this and said "Dude, how can you give up your idea like that? What if he rips you off? Be careful"? First, the friend I told the idea to is a decent chap. Second, I don't really care if he (or anyone else for that matter) "rips me off".

My operating concept is that having ideas per se isn't all that important. It is the actual execution that matters and so I am not afraid of people "stealing" my ideas. It isn't as easy to do that as many people think. The idea I suggested to my friend, for example, sounds simple but there are all sorts of interlocking little problems that all have to be resolved perfectly for it to be successful. I can imagine someone spending a few months (and a few hundred thousand dollars) in an attempt to get it to work and not getting anywhere, because he isn't aware of what to tweak to get a particular effect or how to fix a subtle "error". In fact if anyone can execute the idea better, faster or more comprehensively than I can he is welcome to it.

Paul Graham says it better than I can (in news.ycombinator).

.... if we told everyone about everyone else's ideas, it wouldn't be as bad as you might think. Secrecy is not as important as beginning founders think, because (a) ideas are less valuable than they think, and (b) the most common form of death for startups is suicide, not being killed by competitors."

The last sentence says it all.

Update: One hour after this was written, the proposed startup project committed suicide :-D.

R.I.P :-D


Anonymous said...

"the project committed suicide"

Very Interesting! Can you tell us more? Who, where, why, what etc?

Bosky said...

Ah! finally someone else who thinks that sharing/stealing ideas are'nt anywhere near the end of the tunnel. I agree, that it is very much the execution that makes ALL the difference. Moreover that should serve as a pointer to potential entrepreneurs as well. That it's MORE about the execution of a single or few ideas(which in turn is glaringly proportionate to the qualities of the founding members), THAN feeling good about coming up with 'n' ideas everyday.

As for the little intricacies,that may serve as stumbling blocks(or opportunities depending on how you see it) - a lot of times it helps to actually find such problems that are tough to solve. It might give you some lead-time in particularly unchartered territory. On the other hand, many a time - the product/service that has overlooked those intricacies have made it up with better marketing, and playing down the significance of solving those intricacies.

Since there are so many smart people around - i think it's safe to say that techies tend to want to think that execution varies on a case to case basis ,and that deviations from the 'prefectly executed idea' is a myth. One thing i've learnt from having worked in a fairly succesful startup in it's early days - is that no matter how good a product is - fortunately or unfortunately it's the marketing + community around it that's going to make or break a startup.

Keep Clicking,
Bhasker V Kode

Balanarayan NT said...

Hello Ravi,
I a from Bangalore Mirror, I found your post very interesting. I wanted to know if I could use your post for Blog Talk section in our paper. Please do let me if you are okay with it, know my id is nt[dot]balanarayan[at]gmail[dot]com

Anonymous said...

Great Post
I have worked on many ideas that make a suicide. I m in college but i really like and understands what you say...
very touching post
Rahi Jain

Anonymous said...

very impressed by wat u have written.......i tink its true coz its the determination n commitment which takes u to ur destination ...not only idea............btw i m a student in college.....
archish gupta