Is Idea, Execution or Timing Most Important for Success?

Years before I started getting involved in entrepreneurship and before I even knew that entrepreneurship was its own sort of niche industry, I thought that simply great ideas defined a successful entrepreneur. I know today that I was wrong, well sort of.

In college I had a lot of great ideas. I even kept a notebook of them and overtime it grew to several pages. The ideas seemed to just keep coming. Everywhere I looked I saw problems and sometimes shortly after I would see a solution in my mind. As time went on, I started following the technology industry very closely and discovered how fast the industry could generate very viable solutions in the market. From the outside looking in it seemed that people were having an idea today and had a product out on the market within the next month.

What I didn’t know at that time was just how much it took to get from the idea stage to something real and tangible. I underestimated the challenge of creating something from nothing. Now that years have gone by, I recently took the time to read back through that list of ideas I had created. I was surprised to see that since then most of the ideas on that list have actually come to market and that they now exist due to the hustle of other people in the world. I realized two things from re-reading my old list:

  • My old ideas were on average about three to seven years ahead of the time they came to market.
  • About 80 percent of them now exist in the world.

These two realizations led me to realize how important some of the lessons I have learned over the years are.

Lesson one: The idea. A great idea is important. You have to constantly fall in love with problems you see around the world. Once you fully understand the problem and the users it impacts you can begin to work out solutions to test. You also have to follow the market you want to make the biggest impact in. This means really understanding where it is going, as well as where it has been so you can lead your idea in the right direction. Does this idea make sense and has it been done before? Other important factors are due diligence and constant refinement from user feedback. Make sure you love the idea and everything around it or you will struggle down the road. A great idea is important, but as you will see it is not the only thing that matters.

Lesson two is timing. Ideas can come too early or too late. Having an idea early can be advantageous as it gives you first mover advantage. Getting the timing right of when to bring an idea to market is truly underestimated. Being too early can be the kiss of death, ask Myspace or Google Glass. In the case of Myspace we have the luxury of hindsight and know Facebook was better timed. In the case of Google Glass we are in the midst of seeing what happens in real time when an idea is too early. Google Glass and other wearable technology are going to come to the masses in the next 10 years. The wearable device industry right now could be compared to where the mobile phone industry was with the pre-iPhone Palm Treo about ten years ago. The counter to being too early is obviously being too late with an idea. In this case you will most likely struggle to steal market share from the preexisting big players. Lesson two is to get the timing of your idea right. You have to find the right time of when your idea can make the biggest splash in the market as a product.

Lesson three: Execute. Just go for it! Timing and great ideas are completely useless if you never do anything with them. The ability to execute is what separates great entrepreneurs from people with good ideas. Odds are that you’re not the only one with great ideas too. As stated above about 80 percent of some of my best ideas got developed and it was not by me. Other people executed on their ideas. Even though I was able to guess what was potentially coming to the market three to seven years in the future because I followed the technology industry news very closely it didn’t matter. This is where the competition heats up. Whether or not you can beat the competition will depend on your ability to time the first mover advantage while you put forth an overall commitment and passion for the idea you are building.

It appears that execution can be just spinning your tires without a great idea or timing. Timing is useless if you don’t have a great idea and don’t do the work. An idea is worthless without working to bring it to the world at the right time. So in this complex version game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” that’s more “Idea, Timing, or Execution” what is the right ratio? In my current opinion the perfect recipe for a successful entrepreneur would be the following:

  • 15 percent timing
  • 20 percent intelligent, high quality and excellent ideas
  • 65 percent ability to fully execute on ideas

Imagine not just the idea, but ask yourself if it is the right time and then make your plan to execute on it. You need the right blend of idea, timing and execution to make a successful idea manifest itself in the world. All three skills are a requirement for success. I am not saying this is the only ratio that will enable success, but this is what I would want to see to most confidently know success is around the corner. What do you think is the most important factor in determining a successful entrepreneur? Let me know on Twitter @TheSiskar.