It’s received wisdom among startup types that: “Ideas are worthless, it’s the execution that counts”. It’s become so much of a cliche that the great pop-sci middle-brow heavy-weight Malcolm Gladwell has just written a New Yorker article about it.
Now obviously there is some truth to this. It’s easy to say – “Let’s build a website exactly like Tumblr, but for recipes!” And then do nothing about it. This happens to me multiple times a day.
However there is a counter argument: without the right idea, any amount of execution is worthless.
I have personally seen it many times. Brilliant technologists and designers who build a startup around an idea that just doesn’t make much sense. It either doesn’t fulfill a need, or it cannot be explained in one sentence, or it is just too similar to ideas many other startups are executing on at the same time.
So yes, the execution is incredibly important – but so is finding the right idea to execute on. Building a technically or aesthetically wonderful product is a waste of time if nobody wants to use it.
The hard part is figuring out which are the good ideas and which are the bad. Doing this requires a combination of intuition, research and general knowledge of the world around you.
Flickr founder Caterina Fake voiced a similar opinion a while ago that resonated with me:
“Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Being able to read what people want.”