Entrepreneurs start businesses, right? They wake up one morning, high on adrenaline and drenched in sweat with a detailed blueprint for their brand new and highly disruptive widget floating in full and effortless view of their subconscious. All it takes from that point is to jot down the specifics and get on with enjoying being the leader of the next celebrated unicorn.
Or does it?
Within the startup world, ideas are much like Uber lawsuits: there are always plenty of them to go around. For a would-be founder, a ‘great idea’ can often be an all-consuming focal point around which entrepreneurial dreams and aspirations either die, or slowly fall by the wayside and this is due, in most cases, to there being a commonly-held misunderstanding as to the reality of entrepreneurship.
The idea that every great business has to start from a light bulb moment and have that one great differentiation to stand any chance of getting off the ground is simply not true. Ideas, while they can change the world, do not alone define long-term success. What truly matters for entrepreneurs, and for startups, is the ability to execute. Many of the great entrepreneurs heralded in today’s popular culture weren’t responsible for the original idea on which their companies were founded. They didn’t ever wake up in that lightning-bolt pool of sweat but instead were able to successfully navigate that company from B to Z.
These days, one of the rightly adored poster boys of entrepreneurship is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla (amongst other ventures). Even though it has already achieved profound success, Tesla remains a young company and many would assume Musk was therefore an original founder, a fact that would be incorrectly corroborated by the Wikipedia page. The truth is Musk wasn’t a day one founder. He wasn’t the ‘idea man’ behind Tesla, but he is unquestionably spearheading its execution and, in doing so, is embodying a defining trait in highly successful entrepreneurs.
Venture Capitalists can often be heard touting the phrase “We don’t invest in ideas, we invest in people” and this is simply due to the fact that ideas don’t bring returns on investment, successful execution of ideas does. Ideas alone are not enough to build great companies and therefore to be a truly successful entrepreneur, one has to eventually master A to Z execution.
Great companies commonly take three to five years to become an overnight sensation and an integral part of being able to navigate the endless obstacles that make up that journey, lie with an entrepreneur’s ability to recognize where their strengths are, and how they can maximize the strengths of others to fill the gaps that they leave.
In the case of Musk, arguably his world-beating strengths lie in his tireless pursuit of future-proof products, creating and harnessing media attention, and using that to establish and enliven new markets. Musk is known not only for his grueling (self-inflicted) work schedule, but also his constant push to distill challenges down to their fundamental truths and build executable tasks upon them.
The execution of those tasks is subsequently turned over to the team he’s assembled around him. While it is true that Musk has created business from his own ideas (look to SpaceX and Zip2), he is far more widely respected as an entrepreneur for the projects that he stepped into, then redefined and grew (Paypal, Tesla).
As entrepreneurs it is easy to believe the notion that there must be a game changing idea before we can take a single step forward. In truth, this ‘A’ – or idea – phase of a company won’t end up being the area of most consequence. If a team isn’t able to execute, to drive an idea forward to the point of gaining traction, users, revenue and growth, then however game-changing its nature, it will inevitably and tragically be relegated to the crowded pool of ideas that the world will never get to see.
Cameron Chell is the CEO of the Business Instincts Group.