Ideas Are a Commodity, It's Execution Intelligence That Matters
BY Rob Adams
Working with high growth companies means constantly sorting through new product and service offerings to find expansion opportunities in the market. Whether it's an established company with diversified revenue sources, or a company getting off the ground, the new offering process is a never ending exercise; in today's markets you need to either expand or die.
One characteristic I run into when sorting this out with companies is an obsession around the uniqueness of the idea. Somehow there's an urban legend that has denigrated to an obsession that the idea is king; it is what will make or break the new offering. The idea somehow must be unique and stand-alone in its market. The simple act of describing it needs to cause people to take out their wallets and give you money –or- cause your competitors to copy it. Prepare to be disabused of that notion. Your idea doesn't matter.
First of all, ideas are commodities. Look at any industry, any product or service offering, and what you really see is improvement on the existing standard versus uniqueness in the offering. These improvements can be continuous or disruptive, but in either category, to the customer they are nothing more than incremental improvement around the financial return, usability, quality, or experience of your competitor. This explains why management teams are so important; if new offerings are commodities it's execution by the management team – what I like to call execution intelligence – that makes the difference in the market.
A real world example is Dell. PC's are as ubiquitous as paper clips in today's office environments. They are constructed from commodity status suppliers, lead by Intel and Microsoft, with storage devices, screens, keyboard and mice all undifferentiated and widely available from multiple suppliers. Dell's current performance can be debated, but their innovation for many years was their ability to deliver a commodity status product using an innovative business model through a management team with superior execution intelligence.
How can you spot this Idea is What Matters syndrome? Here are the symptoms.
Is your idea a cool feature, a nice product, or a sustainable business? Features need product to live in and products need businesses to give them life. What do you need to build for your company?
Are you worried about someone stealing your idea? Don't worry, not one wants to take something that isn't proven. Get successful and you'll find them very interested in what you're doing. So don't waste time worrying about your idea getting stolen, spend time making your idea successful.
Do you think you have no competition? Any opportunity worth pursuing has competitors and substitutes or you don't have a real opportunity. And don't forget the biggest competition right now, a customer keeping their money. Make sure you have competition or you may find you are the only customer you have.
Last updated: Jun 22, 2010
ROB ADAMS is on the faculty of the MBA program at The University of Texas at Austin, and is the Director of Texas Venture Labs. He’s a former software executive, entrepreneur and fund manager, and has founded or financed more than 40 companies that have launched more than 100 products with transactions exceeding one billion dollars of capital.