One of the most common pieces of advice about startups is...
The idea doesn’t matter. It’s all about execution.
When founders ponder this statement, they often translate it into “ideas are a dime a dozen” or “ignore competition.” What is often difficult to fully grasp - until you’ve lived it - is how many different ways there are to execute (well or poorly) any single idea.
Blake Byrnes is a partner of mine at Switchyards. Whenever we get into a product conversation with a new founder, he often tells his “hot air balloon” story. He asks the founder to think about the wireframes of the first version of their unbuilt product as a single path that he has chosen with the destination being the solution of a problem for his customers.
For example, if the founder has a dating app, when they mocked-up the product and got ready to build it, they chose a path (even if they aren't aware of it). Given the exact same dating app idea, a dozen other founders would have chosen a dozen different paths (or ways to turn that app into reality).
It’s easy to imagine that customer problems are solved in only one way, but, if you were in a hot air balloon above the founder, you’d see hundreds of other paths to solve the problem. In other words, this could be a real opportunity to build something great for customers, but your startup could fail simply because of the decisions you made in building (or executing) your product.
When I got to minute 52:09 in this podcast, I was reminded of Blake’s story. One of the best product-focused founders that I’ve ever run across describes how startups move fast and that’s necessary to make progress. In many ways progress is simply a string of decisions by the founders. And if you are still alive, you made the right decisions!?!
When you pick a path you delete alternative roads and often forget that they even exist when things work out (also called hindsight bias). Said another way, it’s easy to look at runaway successes right now (eg Uber) and think it was obvious or guaranteed. I bet if you talked with the founders, they would say the exact opposite. They made hundreds of small decisions as they were executing their plan and other founding teams would likely have made different decisions. The sum total of all of these decisions is what you see in Uber today.
Like a startup's culture, how the founding team executes is very personal and unique.
Whenever you hear “it’s all about execution,” I’d encourage you to consider the hundreds (and even thousands) of small/medium/large decisions that teams make to get their ideas into the hands of potential customers. These month-to-month and year-to-year decisions are what ultimately results in the most amazing products that we use today.
Get Right to the Lesson
I’d recommend listening to the entire thing, but to get right to the point go to minute 52:09 of this podcast/video.
Thanks to these folks for helping us all learn faster
Des Traynor (@destraynor), co-founder of Intercom (@intercom)
This Week In Startups (@TWistartups )
Jason Calacanis (@jason)
Jacqui Deegan (@jacqKD)
Jacob Beemer (@jacobbeemer)
Please let me and others know what you think about this topic
Email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org or let's discuss publicly at @davempayne.