I’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs over the years, and most of them have had their act and their venture together by the time they got to me. They may be huge successes, mild successes, or neither, because there is no single executable path for an entrepreneur to succeed, and thus, no way to predict the outcome.
On the other hand, some of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with didn’t have it all figured out, and that’s OK too. They may succeed without so much as a hiccup, especially if my instinct about them was right to begin with.
They have the talent. I just don’t know about the idea. It might not even be a bad idea—I just can’t get 100% sold in, and by 100% sold in I mean I’d work on it myself.
But this is a good sign, for a couple of reasons.
One, it says a ton about the caliber of the entrepreneurs who have taken the plunge recently. These aren’t dreamers, they’re not wantrepreneurs, they’re not doing startup for the wrong reasons. They’re my favorite kind of newly-minted entrepreneur, the ones who just feel like there’s nothing standing in their way to bring their idea to reality. No more barriers, no more excuses, no more delay. They’re all in.
The other reason it’s good is that as long as we keep identifying good entrepreneurs and turning them into great entrepreneurs, it’s ultimately going to create more great startups here.
At the most recent ExitEvent Startup Social, I ran into one of my entrepreneur friends, one that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. He had a new idea, which he told me about, succinctly and efficiently, in 30 seconds. I was immediately excited about it, but it wasn’t even the idea so much as it was the person who had it.
This person is a great entrepreneur, someone I’ve not only seen succeed, but I’ve seen that success work out in ways that were directly correlated to his skills as an entrepreneur. So in that sense, I don’t care what the idea is. The headline is that this entrepreneur is kicking around a new idea. That’s exciting.
A great startup happens when a great entrepreneur has a great idea. These are the no-brainers of the startup world.
Same night, same place, maybe 15 minutes later, I had another conversation with a first-time entrepreneur whom I also hadn’t seen in quite some time. The last time I saw him, he was struggling, and one of the things I told him that night was that regardless of what was happening or going to happen, he was one of those entrepreneurs whom I believed to be a great one.
He had the skills, but maybe this wasn’t the idea. But rest assured, I told him, that idea is coming.
Turns out, it came in the form of a pivot. He didn’t completely overhaul his business, but he took one of the more important components of his business and expanded outward from there. He threw away the idea of vertical, and went all in on the process.
It reminded me of what we did with Automated Insights when we raised our Series A. We threw away the sports vertical, even so far as dropping the name StatSheet, and we went all in on the process of creating narrative out of raw data.
So I’ll say it again. When I talk about the right entrepreneur with the wrong idea, it doesn’t mean the startup is going to fail. In fact, it was that pivot that got us to exit, and continues to work for us today.
Think of it as a chart. If right entrepreneur-right idea is the upper-right of the quadrant, with a nearly 100% theoretical chance of success, right entrepreneur-wrong idea is maybe upper-left with, let’s say, a 50% chance of success.
Of course you can extrapolate out from there. Wrong entrepreneur-wrong idea, the lower-left, has a nearly 0% chance of success (hey, you never know). Wrong entrepreneur-right idea is the lower-right, with maybe a 25% chance of success—pending someone with some real talent and skills getting in there and taking over.
The latter two aren’t really worth pursuing. No one wants to take the time to work on a crapshoot, and trying to replace talent in a working system is risky, costly, and the return is usually pretty scant. If you’re going to take out a founder or CEO or even a member of the management team, that idea better be great, because you’re setting the startup back ages.
The former two is where we need focus. But like I said, right entrepreneur-right idea is a no-brainer, and usually doesn’t need (or want) any help.
But maybe you’re that person out there with the talent, the skills, the whole package, slaving away at the wrong idea or the small idea.
Just remember, ideas are cheap. It’s the execution that ultimately matters, and that execution has to be led by a great entrepreneur. That’s why these days I find I’m just as interested in working on making great entrepreneurs as working on building on great ideas.
The investment in people—money, time, or otherwise—has a much more dramatic return.