January 28, 2011, 4:01 PM — It's been said that every person has at least one great idea in them, waiting to be discovered. The problem is that many people wait their whole lives for that magical flash of inspiration to appear, thinking that once they can grasp it, fame and fortune automatically will be theirs.
Of course, that's faulty thinking for at least two reasons. One, obviously, is that the greatest idea in the world means nothing if you can't or won't execute on it. Great Idea + Action = Results. (Note that I said "results," not success, because success is never guaranteed.)
The other reason is discussed in an excellent blog post by entrepreneur Elad Gil, who now works for Twitter after selling the microblogging company a start-up he founded, called Mixer Labs, in December 2009. According to his LinkedIn profile, Gil runs Twitter's Geo team (the Mixer legacy) and oversees the company's search product. He previously worked at Google, so he certainly appears versed in the ways of Silicon Valley's start-up culture.
Gil approaches the above equation from a different perspective. He argues that, for would-be entrepreneurs, "waiting for a great idea" is a recipe for frustration, inaction and failure (if we define failure as not becoming an entrepreneur).
"Startups are not about working on a great idea - they are the relentless pursuit of doing stuff for customers," Gil writes.
The key words in that sentence are "relentless pursuit" and "customers." I failed on both counts last year when I tried to monetize a couple of blogs I started after losing my full-time job in November 2009. The blogs played to my strengths and interests, but I never adequately defined and targeted a market. And I wasn't relentless. I'd either get discouraged (start-ups are about pain, uncertainty and deprivation) or sidetracked with another "great idea" -- and believe me, I had a million of them, many of which were purchased as domains for when I'd get around to not being relentless about them. I hope Bluehost appreciated the business.
Anyway, beyond the truism quoted above, Gil offers some specific advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. The first, and probably most important, is that you should simply go out and start a company, even if you don't have a great idea, or even a good one. Now, starting a company means more than forming an LLC, printing business cards and joining LinkedIn. It means developing a product or service that someone wants. If no one wants it at first, you tinker with the formula until someone does. Gil cites several well-known start-ups -- Blogger, Yammer, Groupon -- that began as internal tools elsewhere.
"The key to all the examples above is that the entrepreneurs were actually starting a company, not starting an idea," Gil writes. "It is more important to do something, anything at all, than wait and do nothing with the hope of thinking of something great."
I've heard this next one elsewhere, but it's absolutely critical: "Focus on a great market, not a great idea."
"A great market will always have opportunities in it," Gil writes. "Even if the first idea is terrible, you will get to know the market and its needs and build something great on your next try."
And if not the next try, the next try after that. And after that. Relentless pursuit.
A great idea in a terrible market, Gil adds, will often fail. I'll add to that an "undefined market."
Finally, Gil says, you have to execute well, because it's the rare idea that is totally unique and original. How many blogging platforms and cloud companies have started in the past few years? Plenty. Some already are out of business. Only a few will endure.
If you're an aspiring entrepreneur, or already embarked on the start-up path, I'd recommend Gil's blog as a good resource. It's called the Elad Blog. He doesn't write every day, but he has a deep archive of material. (I particularly like this post for entertainment value.)
And if any readers want to recommend other useful blogs for entrepreneurs, feel free to mention them in the comments section. Maybe I'll put together a resource list in a future post. It's important to learn from people who have been down the start-up road and lived to tell about it. Otherwise you're liable to become start-up roadkill. Trust me, I know.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.