The value of ideas in a startup

Lately when talking to startup founders, there is an interesting theme that I have come across.

Almost every founder seems to have unanimously accepted the theory that in a startup, the idea doesn’t matter. Execution is king. I believe such thinking is wrong, wrong in a big way.

I totally respect Paul Graham and am a believer in most of YCombinator’s principles on startups and the process of building technology startup companies. And although the “ideas don’t matter” paradigm has been around for a while, I think Ycombinator’s official Apply without an Idea article has made some founders take this concept literally and apply it to even their non YC funded companies.

So here is what I have to say- when building a startup, ideas matter.

In fact so much that in a startup they matter even more than they do at a big company. A big company can get away with a product which does not solve any real problem, is based on some cliched idea and which is a nightmare to use. They might still manage to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of that product just based on the company brand.

With YCombinator there are multiple factors that compensate for the lack of idea – most importantly the vast experience and mentorship that YC itself brings to the table. Every other startup which is not part of such an incubator must keep this in mind before jumping on the no-idea bandwagon.

So, ideally startup founders should spend some considerable amount of time in forming the idea, validating it and clearly defining the value proposition it brings to the market. Once they do that, the company has a stake in the ground.

From there on they can pivot and iterate and do what not, based on user feedback and so forth. But user’s would give feedback only to something which solves an essential problem for them. They would want a better version of only a product that is useful at its core.

Now how do you figure out something that would be useful to a lot of users without building a product spec or basic prototype?

For that you have got to have vision. The one rare quality that ticks entrepreneurs with the right ideas and gives them the courage to execute and build an amazing company around it.

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