Note: This article is written mostly from the perspective of tech startups because the comparisons I make are easy to explain from this vantage point. In reality, this applies to any business venture.
We already talked about why your business idea doesn’t matter (and what actually does). There, I said that the value of a startup or a business is in your ability to execute.
Great ideas are completely irrelevant without being able to execute.
I think most new entrepreneurs would read this and understand it to a certain point. ”OK, just because I have a good idea for the next Facebook isn’t enough. No one’s going to fund my idea just because I came up with it”
But that’s about as far as their understanding goes.
“Well that’s fine; I will just hustle and go find myself a technical co-founder and by-oh-golly I’ll be starting my tech startup by this time next month”
Believe me, it is possible to get programmers on board (I’ve done it). It’s possible to get people interested and initially excited with your startup idea. The sales pitch is the easy part:
Getting people to say they’ll help you with your project is barely the beginning.
Think about it: even if you could convince programmers, do you know enough about how to manage them? Did you provide them with enough of an incentive to make them stick around? Do you know that the product they are making is what you actually want / need?
“Well sure I can!”, you say; but really think about it. How do you expect to be able to control a company of volunteer, already-tapped out programmers that you have no idea how to manage, and that, if the walked away, would leave your company at a complete stagnation?
Well, you could say “RC, I have experience with startups, I have a great network of proven programmers who respect me and are ready to work with me…”
But what about for us first-timers and young entrepreneurs? In other words, the rest of us?
I advocated starting a foundational business for this exact reason; that is, a business that’s easily within our ability to execute and make money off of. Foundational businesses are great for first-time entrepreneurs to learn the ropes and become acquainted with the ins-and-outs of business, without taking on a lot of risk or biting off more than you can chew.
But how do we know if our business idea is something we can actually do, or if it’s something outside of our area of expertise?
How you know if you probably can’t execute your business idea:
Do you have the resources and expertise to execute your idea? Or is your success mostly at the whim of others? Here’s how to know-
1. You have the “vision”, but no ability to actually create the product.
“Vision” isn’t enough for 2 reasons-
Vision is overrated (or at least misunderstood)
A vision is simply an idea of where you want to go. While a vision is important for tying in the direction of your efforts, it’s not the actual effort itself.
“I see us being a $2 million company in 2 years!” is almost a completely pointless goal if you can’t even do anything to make your first dollar.
This one is a nod to all the “ideas guys” out there who think their ability to conjure an idea makes them valuable. From experience, trust me: it means almost nothing.
An over-reliance on others can derail all of your dreams
What if your coder gets sick?
What if they get tired of your face?
What if they decide “screw you, I’m just going to go work on my own startup”, and leave you in the dust.
If that happened, would your whole startup be put on hold? Would there be absolutely nothing you could do if they decided to call it quits?
“But that would never happen! I’m doing this with my best friend / uncle / Siamese twin”
I talk with people all of the time who are forced to abandon startups halfway through because their partners decide to bail. It’s been essentially shown that the #1 cause of premature startup failure is problem between the founders; for example, Paul Graham writes in “How Not to Die“:
When startups die, the official cause of death is always either running out of money or a critical founder bailing.
(The book The Founder’s Dilemmas has an amazing amount of information on why startups fail, and what can be done to avoid failure; you should definitely check it out).
2. You have a technical skill that would actually be helpful to building the company, but not one for making the product.
“Well RC, I may not be a good coder, but I do have X years of experience in sales and marketing!”
If you do, that’s great!
But that doesn’t change your problem.
If you don’t have a product, there’s not much to sell, is there?
I’m not saying that partners are bad or that it’s impossible to get programmers.
I got coders. I know other people who have. But again, that’s not the hard part. The hard part is keeping the ball rolling.
To reiterate: if your balls are in a vice; if one of your key people decides to quit / not do work, there’s a good chance that it’ll be curtains for your idea.
What makes your idea executable:
1. You control and understand the main sauce. (Not just the “vision”)
If you want to start a tech startup, do you know how to code?
That means that even if your business guy takes off, you can keep developing the company. Now what if you ditch the business guy: do you think he’ll have any luck going it on his own?
“But RC, business guys are valuable too!”
But the reality is that they’re at the mercy of the tech guys. And in the short term, there’s really nothing that can be done about it.
2. You have a tangible and specific ability to control and manage the other resources your company needs.
“That which you can’t do yourself; seek to control”
Do you have money to pay programmers? Do you understand enough about programming and software development to manage them?
For example, a friend of mine is making a board game that he’ll launch on Kickstarter later this year.
He’s an expert at making the game itself…the gameplay, the rules, the strategy. But he doesn’t know how to draw or do graphic design at a commercial level. But he can easily go hire someone to do that. Because he holds the ability to actually design and create the product, he can hire / partner up with other people easily to do auxiliary functions.
Now turn the tables: if you were a graphic designer with no game-making skills that wanted to make a game. He would be waiting around for months for someone to make the game…and if the game maker got tired of doing it, got busy, got sick…whatever…the designer could do nothing.
So how is it that a non-tech person could ever start a tech startup?
It does happen, and it’s happened many times.
Where I’ve seen it work well, one of these things has been true:
1. Founders have been friends for a long time, and just so happen to have similar worldviews on entrepreneurship (that means everyone is dedicated).
2. Founders have the ability to hire programmers.
3. Founders have been older, and as such more established / more wealthy, and as such been able to better command resources to their use.
Are there exceptions to all of this?
But what I’m writing I would say is the “norm”…9 out of 10 times, any business arrangement you might try to get into can have these problems.
In short: the further things are out of your control, the more likely something will go wrong, or go nowhere at all.
Have you ever gotten in head-over-heels by jumping into a business that was beyond your ability to execute?
Let me know below; what did you do about it?