When I originally thought about writing this post, I assumed I would name it “Ideas are Hard, Implementation is Easy.” That, of course, is a challenge to the great Guy Kawasaki, who declared in 2004 that Ideas are Easy, Implementation is Hard.
Guy still makes a meaningful point. There are thousands, if not millions, of “founders” who believe they’re entrepreneurs because they have an idea. What Guy was trying to say is that it’s not enough to have an interesting idea, you have to connect that idea with meaningful action.
But like any common wisdom, it eventually needs to be challenged (and I look forward to challenges to every single one of OSA’s blog posts). Over the years, I’ve come to believe that for most verticals, what’s hard is coming up with a viable idea, while implementation is relatively easy.
Take Slack. If you asked me to build Slack in six months, I’d grab four developers, take a four-week-long vacation and still deliver the product on time. What’s surprising is that someone thought the world needed another communication tool for the enterprise. And Stuart Butterfield was right! In a market crowded with *successful* incumbents, Slack launched a slightly better product and 10 years later went public valued at more than $20 billion.
At this point, outside of autonomous vehicles, quantum computing and augmented reality on contact lenses, most technological problems feel like solved problems. It’s the ability to identify a viable gap in the market that feels like the real challenge.
So back to ideas. Are they easy or hard? I’m not sure what’s the right answer. Launch some products and decide for yourself. And this is why I named this post something else, because what’s clear is that the hardest thing is resilience. Perseverance is everything.
Most companies get it wrong at first. All startups are based on assumptions, and most have devastating assumptions that make the product or service impossible to square. If you have a good startup, it doesn’t mean all your assumptions are right. It means that you’ve done everything you can to find out which of your assumptions are wrong as soon as possible. And once you’ve done that, you don’t just quit and do something else.
I am so that type of founder. I see an opportunity, I try it for a year, and eventually go “Oh crap, this is never going to work.” Then I go and do something else entirely, losing all of the specialized knowledge I gained over that year.
But you! You’re a great founder. And you realize that everything you’ve learned and all the best practices you’ve picked up, very little of it is applicable to other verticals. Sure, setting weekly KPIs will travel with you anywhere, but all those things that just affect the airlines industry, or elder care, or contract software development… those remain where you found them.
As a great founder, you stay in that same industry and you try something else. More swings at bat. More bites at the apple. Solving similar problems in slightly different ways. Over time, you become one of the smartest people in the world in your specific industry and eventually, you nail it.
I’ve got a buddy named Mark Steven Meadows. He’s the CEO of Botanic Technologies, which provides multi-modal bot platforms (ie, virtual avatars). He started the company in 2011, but he’s been building companies around characters, avatars and AI for the better part of 25 years. He’s started all kinds of “bot” companies, and he’ll tell you that none of them have been knock-it-out-of-the-park successful. I’ll often hear him say, “I was just too early,” which is usually code for “I was wrong.”
But, what is implied in that statement is the market just wasn’t ready for that particular idea yet. YET. Because Mark has stuck with it and stayed in his lane, Botanic is in a great position to become hugely successful now that artificial intelligence has caught up with the visuals. He’s truly one of the ten smartest people in the universe with regard to virtual avatars. And someday, maybe sooner rather than later, he’ll be a billionaire, mostly because he’s persisted for so long.
In some cases you might not even be in the same vertical, but you build on momentum by continuing to launch things with the same team. Stuart Butterfield is an excellent example of this. In 2002, he developed an online role-playing game called Game Neverending that he never even launched. During the development process, he found out that what alpha players liked best was sharing photos with each other, and so instead he launched Flickr. Less than a year later, Yahoo bought it. Fast forward five years and Stuart wass working on another new video game, Glitch. It was a flop, but through it he discovered people loved its messaging service, which became Slack. You know the end of that story.
I can’t find this link, but in the late 2000s Fred Wilson wrote a blog post where he examined all the companies he’d invested in through Flatiron Partners and Union Square Ventures. Of all the companies that had an exit, two-thirds of them were doing something fundamentally different when they were acquired than when he initially invested.
Your EXPECTATION should be that you will sell your business doing something drastically different from when you started it. Because swings at the bat, bites at the apple, PERSEVERANCE is what separates the winners from the losers.
— Eric Marcoullier
As I mention above, I have historically been the dude who doesn’t persevere. I’ve watched friends stay the course with new idea after new idea in the same space, and now they’re sitting on a beach somewhere, drinking piña coladas, earning 20%. Perhaps what I needed was someone to say “Eric, before you completely drop this plan, let’s brainstorm how you could try something different in the same space.” If this sounds like something you could use, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or head to my coaching site at www.marcoullier.com. I can’t wait to hear from you.
— Eric Marcoullier