Nathaniel Whittemore

Founder, Assetmap Strategies


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For startups, is it Ideas or Execution that matters most?

There is an ongoing debate in Silicon Valley and the startup world more broadly about how important ideas versus execution are. While most sensible people agree that you need both, the implications of the conversation are significant: if every startup is just expected to iterate into good ideas, then funding follows a different path than if people believe in the compelling vision of a founder.

TED is a community of ideas and so might provide a different space to engage in this conversation.

  • Feb 16 2011: I forget who said this, but it has always stuck with me: "One hundred percent of the value of any good idea lies in its implementation." The most brilliant idea in the world is worthless if not implemented or implemented badly. I personally invest in startup technology companies. I usually couldn't care less about the idea the company is based on, on the grounds that I didn't see the future of the Internet because I couldn't figure out how people were going to make money from it, I thought Google was a dumb idea, and to this day I can't see the point of Facebook, so clearly my ability to pick winning ideas is, ahem, limited. But I have backed some very successful businesses because they implemented well -- both ideas I liked and ideas I thought sucked. The business I started, built, ran, and sold had no particularly original ideas, we just did what others were doing but did it better.
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    Feb 16 2011: Both matter a lot. If you have a great idea and you don't execute it on time then it might not remain exclusive. Procrastinating an idea or even waiting for the perfect time, or sometimes, waiting for a co-founder might just end up making the idea redundant. Thus, if you have a great idea execution is of utmost importance. Just execute, and the things will fall in place. Having said that, one must not execute until the idea is fully developed. Launching a half baked idea might lead to shutting down of the startup, having no clear vision or goals, or even more. Thus, again, both are important.

    One thing I would like to add is, if you bring in external funding chances are that your idea will be tampered with, but trust me, if you are clear about your vision/goal and the void you are trying to fill with your startup, you must not let the idea be tampered with. Just stick to it, it will work out.
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    Feb 23 2011: I think that both are important, but just a some great ideas might grow to a great business and well executed ideas may be simple but grow to great business most of the time. Of course we should exclude stupid ideas or ideas that are outdated.

    The Lean Startups movement/methodology show how to evolve the idea and the business model around it gradually. The steps are: you start with an idea that is not complete, build a prototype, discover customers, validate customers and build your company.

    So I am of the opinion that the execution is the most important, but the idea, of course is important also.
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    Feb 17 2011: Interesting question. The obvious answer would be both are important. However, silicon valley used to play by different rules (after the bubble burst things changed though) and often a company was valued only based on the idea behind. How many technology companies went public, soared to incredible heights w/o any solid foundation and eventually sunk as quick as the rose.
    Today after having learned the hard way, people are more careful and I doubt that dreams, without a clear business plan can be sold easily.
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    Feb 17 2011: Ideas and execution are both very important parts of the process, and it seems that the idea has to manifest first. I believe that everything starts with an idea...a dream. I agree with Anshul in that we must be clear about our goal, and my experience is that once the dream/idea is established in the mind and heart, it gains energy and the execution becomes more possible and enjoyable.