Cultivate Teams, Not Ideas

How much is a good idea worth? According to Derek Sivers, not much:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Aaaand the first comment on-topic. :slight_smile:

I do agree that execution is the far more the key to success than the idea itself. I’ve seen crappy/mundane ideas become successful through good execution and marketing, and I’ve seen brilliant ideas fail because the owners failed to executed them anywhere near the level of “acceptable”.

But the rant by Mr. Sivers made me think about one thing - what do you do when you have a great idea but lack the resources (time, money, skills, etc) to execute? Actually most of the time it’s the money that’s lacking because it can be converted to any other resource necessary.

Do you not do the same thing as Mr Sivers and make your rounds with the rich people? And does it not hurt when afterwards one of them takes your idea and executes it (with his resources) as his own? I think this is what the rant is about. It’s not that Sivers didn’t understand the importance of execution or was too lazy to do it.

And I still wonder what the correct course of action would have been - especially since I have a few such ideas myself… :stuck_out_tongue:

Execution and the skill of your team is of course important, but there’s little execution without money. The wealthy and established get a head start on execution by virtue of their posistion.

It’s not impossible to succeed without backing, but it is more difficult. I can understand why people want to protect their ideas. Companies like Google/Microsoft could get a product built and used by millions within months of having an idea. Additionally being the ‘first mover’ is often critical in the success of software, so you’d want to ensure you have enough of a head start before competitors start copying you.

I agree about the execution, it’s a no brainer really, but…

The real problem here is MONEY, and how the VCs DONT address it as they should.

Remember the webvideo fad? the only startup that actually got paid was youtube, in stock, and google won’t recoup the money until 2050 so the ROI is extremely low. Even then that idea which is as old as the internet itself (realvideo anyone?) got so hyped up and so much funding that all those wantrepreneurs out there with no skills but lots of connections got all the money they needed for a few years of fancy lifestyle and parties until their companies went bellyup, more recently Veoh.

The same with web gaming: Newgrounds and others have been around for years yet the newcomers like Zynga get the money, why? in this case two reasons: the guy behind it knows everybody so he managed to get over $100M in funding, way more than what you need to make crappy flash ripoff of old games. And to top it off, his site relies on the kind of shaddy scam ads none of his competitors dare to touch. Quite a role model huh?

You can be a great coder, you can be the best graphic designer around, you can come up with the best business plan in years, but without money you’re going NOWHERE, it will be a billion to one shot if you ever get an invitation from a VC just due to your dev skills.

On the other hand, if you already have the money OR the contacts that can get you the money, it doesnt matters you’re chasing after the same dusted idea everybody does, it doesnt matters that you need to hire a guy to hire you devs because you dont know shit about programming or design, it really doesnt matter that you dont have any idea of how you’re gonna make money to repay your investors, after all they’ll keep giving you money for your stupid attempts at technology, just like others keep pumping money into these funds that, as a matter of fact, cant even BREAK EVEN.

Honestly, 90% time is these douchebags the ones that dont know about execution, but because they have the money they had a chance.

“…it was not the idea behind it, our internet fame”

I think it is perhaps a bit naive to think that the internet fame wasn’t a large factor - at least in getting the initial community to create the content for the site - I think it is perhaps unfair not to recognise this.

Indeed, I missed that. For any social network (and SO is a social network) to take off you first need to achieve the “critical mass” of users. I think either Jeff himself or Joel Spolsky said that (or something along those lines). People join social networks because there are other people there they want to meet. If your social network is empty, nobody will join it. A chicken-and-egg type of problem.

To further emphasize this point, go to this link:

It lists some of StackExchange sites. And the vast majority are virtually dead with just a few questions/answers per day, if at all. Yet the engine (and indeed EVERYTHING else besides the topic) is the same as SO.

So yes, Jeff, you wouldn’t have been able to pull off this StackOverflow-thing without the internet fame of both you and Joel. The combined readership of both your blogs provided the initial critical user mass to get off the ground.

I enjoyed the article. Execution is the force multiplier for an idea. I had a brief blog post suggesting…Ideas are Commodities – Innovation is all about Execution

Good article, however the execution of any idea need lot of things with maintaining your normal life. Majority are fail and Minority get success because of their enthusiasm and passion. This is true for ideas for any discipline (reference to Ford bibliography).

Aleem Alvi (

Interesting–I wrote a really similar article about two years ago:


There are a couple of comments above questioning what you do when you don’t have money.

If you expect to get funding when the only thing you are bringing to the table is an idea, you’re acting like an employee. Entrepreneurs take risks, make sacrifices and most of all figure out how to get round problems like this. If you really don’t have anything to offer and you’re starting from the bottom, you need to fight your way up. Learn to code, spend the time getting domain knowledge, work at start ups, work evenings, save some money then quit your job, inspire others to help… do what it takes. VCs or angels only want to invest in people they believe can succeed. So you need to be someone (well, part of a team) who has a chance of doing so and you need to demonstrate it.

@Vilx: I agree. If you have some idea and try to get people for it and those people have executing power, then you are risking getting left out from the venture. That can happen even if you do have executing power, but some other group that you are co-operating with has more executing power than you.

So you need an idea and executing power. Good way to accomplish this is to gather the people first, then get an idea and make it happen. Too bad if you are in some company as an employee and have ideas. Bosses might like your ideas and you might get to execute them or then not. More likely not, because there is always someone better or in a better position than you and gets to execute. You might be considered some minor detail on the floor level who should stick to your work instead. You might not have the people that you need to support you.

It is very frustrating to try to balance how much you spend your time on inventing ideas for the company and how much actually sticking doing your job. The company might just want you to stick to your work or the company might just expect you to stick to your work. That way your work will be as efficient as possible and no time wasted on “inventing” things. So for all the hassle, many people choose to stick to their work or watch ideas being taken over.

Nice point from Alan Pritt. Projected on myself, it’s true - I do feel more like an employee than an entrepreneur. I’m one of those types who is a programmer and has very little wish to ascend to management. And I hate to take risks - well at least ones where it’s likely that you might fail. I guess that rules me out as an entrepreneur and thus - getting revenue from my ideas.

Funny though - does it really mean that the only people who can actually profit from ideas are entrepreneurs? It’s a point which I didn’t seem to realize before, although in retrospect it’s pretty obvious. The only person with the idea AND execution will be the entrepreneur that keeps it all together. Individual people might have one or the other, but it takes an entrepreneur to put it all together, execute, box it, wrap it and sell it. And the entrepreneur will be the one who gets the profits in the end. Not the employees.

Sucks to be like me. :smiley:

Funny though - does it really mean that the only people who can actually profit from ideas are entrepreneurs?

Well, no. Writers aren’t employees and many are not businesspeople, but they can make profits.

And these days, there’s a LOT of business talent out there that’s unemployed. This is an opportunity to hook up with those people and form a partnership. You do the code, they do the business end. Just have a good lawyer for the contract, however.

As some have said, I’d go further than say to cultivate a great team.

You have to cultivate the A-Team.

You need a leader. This is a guy that has a plan, knows how to get the members of his team to work at their best and pulls his weight while doing all of it.

You need your grease monkey. They guy that does heavy lifting, gets his hands dirty and generally is amazing at stuff. This person does not necessarily have to be a people person.

You need your lunatic. The guy who has big ideas, wild and insane thoughts and is generally brilliant but needs to be reigned in. He’ll think out of the box and with the grease monkey will get problems solved.

Finally, you need a faceman. He knows everyone, is able to make, call in or get favors and is able to generate funds. He can smooth over any complaint from an irate client, help with everything the others do and shines when asked to get the impossible done with connections.

You can get by with just 3 of these, but you will never be as successful without all 4 on a team.

A great idea can’t get anywhere without guidance, elbow grease, some brilliance, and the connections to make it happen.

@Jose Perez: So if you are in a company and you happen to be a grease monkey that has an idea, then at the end of the day you are still a grease monkey and your boss has now one idea more. You cannot start your own company either, because you are not a people person, just a grease monkey.

Just as people who don’t succeed sometimes blame other people, or begrudge other’s their success, people who succeed sometimes assign themselves too much credit, or don’t give less successful people their due.

Sometimes the difference between someone who succeeds with an idea, and someone who fails with a similar idea is best attributed to luck. Some people are willing to admit that, far too many others try to deny the role of fate. They talk about the importance of execution, or the team. It’s true, those things can make a difference, but they are rarely enough.

If pressed, they’ll admit that timing might have been the difference between success and failure, but then gloss over the fact that good timing probably had at least as much to do with luck as hard work or excellent execution. I know I’m right about this too, because when it comes down to it, even people who make it their business to identify who the winning startups will be get it wrong most of the time, and even when some of them get it right and pick a winner, chances are someone else passed on that winner.

The other thing successful people do is underestimate the importance of their earlier success in their later success. I think Viix is right on the money, however well the Stack Overflow team executed, your baby would have had a harder time making its way in this world without plugging in to the community you an Spolsky have built in your earlier endeavors.

None of this is to begrudge you your success, but don’t think your success makes you an expert on either success or failure.

For what it is worth, Marc Andreessen (you may have heard of him) has a different view on all of this. He divides success factors into product, team and market. What matters most of all is the market. A mediocre product in an exploding market is going to be a bigger financial success than a great product in a mediocre market. For a given market, then what matters is product/market fit. Team and execution matter here, because you need the product, and you need to keep tweaking it to get the fit right.

So where are ideas in all of this? Andreessen doesn’t talk about them specifically, but I think ideas matter a lot in his formulation, because I think the idea can encompass both identifying the market and the product that fits it. You still have to build the product, but if you’ve got a good idea, then you are building the right product for the right market, and there is no substitute for that. Being able to learn and course correct is important, but heading in roughly right direction in the first place can give a big head start.

All this discussion leads me to three thoughts.

First - It seems that success depends on a great deal more factors than just the idea and execution. Luck, money, entrepreneurship, timing, choice of market, advertising, tweaking are just a few from all. The more of them you get right, the more successful you will become. But the list itself is long, and there are probably very few people on the planet that understand but a half of it.

Second - I think what we can conclude from all this is not that the execution is the most important factor, but that it is more important than the idea. And that the best way to get a great execution is to make a great team.

Third - it’s “Vilx-” with a minus sign and all, not “Viix” or “Vilx”. XD

Here’s a quick thought experiment:

Let’s say it’s 2 AM and the StackOverflow team al have just finished up the first release of SO ready to deploy the next day. Now, some
idea-and-execution-stealing bad guy is somehow able to steal the
entire SO codebase for themselves and delete all of your the original copies. The next day they are able to launch BizzaroStackOverflow, and the SO guys have nothing.

How successful is BSO? Is it a function of how widely they can market
this new website? If the original SO team was able to recreate SO in a
month and re-launch, would you be able win more followers than BSO, or
is that too much time?

Alanis Morissette called. She wants her definition of irony back.


"does heavy lifting, gets his hands dirty and generally is amazing at stuff. "

They can have great ideas. But if they want them to succeed and want to make their own company, they need the others.

How many grease monkeys had a great idea but failed to make them work?
They tried to make the idea happen but didn’t have everything they needed.

Heck, the article we are commenting about started with a person that had a great idea but failed to have what was needed to get the idea off the ground and a success.

Grease monkeys may have good ideas, but without the leader, faceman, and lunatic to help direct, connect, and shape those ideas, their ideas are worth pretty much nothing.

Any one of these people can be brilliant and have an idea that shapes the world. Steve Jobs strikes me as a cross between faceman and leader while Bill Gates is more leader and grease monkey. They both knew making their ideas work required the right people and they both made sure they had them available.

If you are in a company and a grease monkey with a great idea, find the people you need to make the idea work. Find that guy that knows everyone and can get you starting funds, find that brilliant guy that everyone knows is nuts but who loves a challenge, and find the guy that can work with all of you and make you all shine. No one said being a grease monkey sucked or had to suck.