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Strategy or Execution

By : Ziad K. Abdelnour| 13 January 2014
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I am approached every year by hundreds of entrepreneurs with great ideas, great strategies but no track record of execution – all seeking funding for their respective ventures – and I turn them down one after the other for a lack of track record executing.

So here is some food for thought for all those of you still debating whether should funders back an idea / strategy or whether execution/track record is really what counts.

First time and aspiring entrepreneurs often mistakenly believe that a completely unique and original idea is what’s going to make them rich. In reality it has very little to do with the idea, and more about the choice of market, the team, the execution, the persistence, timing, and how good you are at adapting the business along the way based on what you learn.

I’ve made this mistake multiple times already in thinking that one specific product idea would be the key to a successful business and then got trapped working in an area I wasn’t thrilled about.

So instead of looking for one specific market gap, think much more big picture about what kind of market you want to be in the long run. Then research the existing players and their approaches. Then analyze the trends in the market due to emerging and upcoming technology, and think about the timing and whether or not you can ride (or set into motion) a “disruptive” wave.

Now if you pick a market, and find that existing competitors are big and slow moving and are ripe for being picked off in some small area of their business, and you can leverage emerging trends to do so, then you have a real opportunity. This is especially important if it’s in an area that you want to work in, because I can guarantee you that your business will change completely over years and years of working on it, but the market focus that you’re working on won’t change.

I am a devotee of Don Valentine (Sequoia Capital) here. Pick the right market, and it will help cover most sins of execution. He claims in a recent Stanford business school talk that once they saw the powerful growth of Apple, they started investing in a lot of companies that were in that ecosystem and made incredible returns.

But put a brilliant team in a bad market, and no amount of smarts / agility will overcome that handicap. There are indeed lots of brilliant/dedicated teams that went after bad segments of semiconductors, clean tech and health tech and burned through hundreds of millions of stupid VC money with little return to show for it. There is no amount of pivoting that could have saved these investments.

Timing is another factor. Some ideas are good but despite the execution they are doomed due to the market not being ready or technology not being there. Timing is somewhat open to debate because it can be considered part of the idea. Selling high end clothing on line in the late nineties for example sucked due to the market not being ready and the technology not being up to the job.

Last, business models, and not just products, should be considered in here as ideas that can be executed on. People tend to focus too much on the product idea, and sometimes no matter how great your product or service is, you simply can’t make the economics work and you end up in the dead pool. So do yourself a big favor and start spending more time thinking about business models and building a track record while bootstrapping your respective business before getting funded.

Bottom Line: The more often you create and share ideas, the better you get at it. The process of manipulating and ultimately spreading ideas improves both the quality and the quantity of what you create…at least it does for me.

History is littered with inventors who had “great” ideas and “strategies” but kept them quiet and then poorly executed them. And history is also lit up with doers who took ideas that were floating around in the ether and actually made something happen.

So, if you’ve got ideas, let them go. They’re probably holding you back from the hard work of actually executing, building a track record and getting funded in a major way.

After all is said and done, I believe that just about every successful venture is based on an unoriginal idea, beautifully executed.

Show me you can execute on a real solid “disruptive” idea and you will get funded.

Share your thoughts…

Comments

  1. Janette ConradsonJanette Conradson

    This is excellent advice. As a person who is in the midst of this process I can agree 100% with your premise that the market matters, you need a great leader and a good plan to keep you focused on the “How” of what you are attempting. There will be great days and dark days. The secret is having a disruptive product and the will/skill to execute.

    I have been hard at this for 2.5 years now from the invention of our product to, just yesterday, signing our first commercialization agreement with a partner. We come to the market in Q4-2014. Our chosen initial partner’s customers represent 25% of US Oil and Gas Producers. Our technology is able to automatically and accurately predict EUR on any given well, oil or gas or water, and provide you with the uncertainty quantification also so you can for the first time actually engineer risk. BetaZi is a physics based predictive analytics algorithm using science just 3 years old. Producers and Investors are about to get a new data point for their analysis. It takes a human 4 to 16 hours to do what our software does in 4 minutes and with greater accuracy.

    My point in saying all this is that even with cool new technology-had we not picked the right market, I not stayed the course I had planned out, taken the ‘no’s from entrenched businesses not able or willing to see the opportunity, etc. we would not be here today. Sorry for long post.

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