Don’t downplay the idea

Saurabh Hooda
5 min readJul 1, 2016
image source

“Ideas are cheap, execution is everything.’’ — Chris Sacca, Investor in Twitter & Uber

We live in the “execution is the king” world. We have been told zillion times that idea is worthless, overrated or, at the best, idea is just a multiplier of the execution. “Idea” (the startup idea) has been downplayed so much that we don’t pay the right attention to the idea part in a startup.

Execution hogs all the limelight because execution is sexy. With execution, you have something tangible (be it the first draft of wireframes or the rough flow diagrams of the app) to show off at the end of the day. You get to flaunt with the execution and have a chance to impress others whereas the idea is mostly a private affair. If you try to flaunt your idea, you’ll end up hearing “Ideas are a dime a dozen. Show me the product”. With so much stacked against the idea, we are not putting in the right time and energy into the idea. The idea is the core of your startup. It might be just 1%, but that’s 1% from the heart of your startup.

Another reason why execution overwhelms us — as soon as an idea is born — is because the idea is a simple statement, but the execution is pandora’s box. For execution, you need to think about design, coding, marketing, social media, advertising, logistics, inventory, team and hell lot of other things. Each of these mentioned things is an ocean in itself. The more you dive deeper in any of these things, the more you uncover. Once you start to think about the execution, you fall prey to the vastness of the execution ocean. You foresee so many things to do so you start to do things. But the idea part is now sidelined, and execution is at the forefront. That’s is most probably how we move from an idea to its execution.

Putting in the right amount of time and energy in digging deeper on the idea can save a lot of time, money, energy and pain in the long run. We should focus more on “why” of the idea before getting into “how” (the execution) of the idea.

Why of the idea

An Idea needs to be vetted on a number of parameters. The answer to every “why” of the idea has to be further questioned by another ‘why’ to get to the root of the things. 5 Whys is a good technique of digging deeper. Dig deeper into your idea by asking these Whys:

  • Why do I want to pursue this idea?
  • Why would people use this?
  • What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn’t exist yet (or they don’t know about it)? (Actual YC question). Why would people leave substitutes and move to your idea?
  • Is your idea an immediate need of the people? Or are you making something that’s not an immediate need but might help people do things in a better (more efficient or better quality) way? Remember breaking/changing people’s habit is tough. How you plan to do that?
  • Who are your competitors, and what do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get? (Another YC question). Why would people try (and then stick to) your product? People won’t come to you unless your product is multiple times better.
  • In a rare case, if there are no direct competitors then why not anyone has tried it till now? Is there anything that is making it impossible, impractical to try? Who have tried this earlier? Why did they fail?
  • Why would people join you before funding to work on this idea?

Read more (as much as you can) about the domain of your startup idea. For ex. if your idea is about sharing economy, understand why sharing economy works or why it doesn’t? Which startups from sharing economy are a success and which are not? Why some succeeded and why the other failed?

While researching on your idea, you might come across your indirect competitors that you were not even aware of. Read everything about them. Read their problems, their strength, why are they doing well or why are they struggling or have died?

Sometimes ideas are so powerful that they grab you by the throat and force you to start execution asap. You get totally enthralled by the idea (you literally feel that you are about to change the world!) that you would want to make it live asap. You would want to show it to users asap; you would want to iterate as fast as you could, but it’s always good to shed that enchantment of the idea and objectively evaluate it. Be your devil’s advocate.

Execution is intoxicating. When you see any output, you become more excited and start to work harder. When you encounter any issue, you feel happy because you have been told that you’ll encounter lots of hurdles so, even in this case, you work harder. Once you start working (execution) on the idea, it’s very difficult to focus on the idea. We are told that we’ve to iterate faster, fail faster, learn faster, so we execute faster and do more experiments. Result of iterations and experiments are signals what’s working and what is not (In other words, what’s right about the idea and what is not). If we focus more on the “why” part of the idea, then there are several experiments that we could entirely avoid by reading the right blog, brainstorming with right people or introspecting more.

We are always fascinated with our idea and nearly always think highly about it but most of the times it is crap. Meet your founder friends and explain them about your idea. Talk to folks who are not infatuated with the idea (in fact, if he is against the idea, it is all the way better) and pitch the idea to them. It’s always good to listen to naysayers at the idea phase so that you know the kinks of your idea. So that you can iron out those wrinkles before kickstarting.

Once you are sure that your idea is great, start executing. As Derek Sivers had put it succinctly, “Ideas are worth nothing unless executed.”

Iterate faster.