Many people speak with me about startup ideas. People who are not startup-savvy often treat startup ideas like they were invaluable business assets. Some memorable phrases from these discussions are “I’ll tell you my idea, but promise you won’t do it yourself” or “If you’ll end up doing this idea, you’ll need to pay me a royalty.”
People with more experience in startups know that this kind of behavior is silly. Many smart people say that ideas are worthless. I think this is closer to the truth. But then again, it’s not exactly the truth: Ideas aren’t really worthless. A good idea which gets executed well by a smart and determined entrepreneur is worth something. It’s like the success of a startup is something like the equation (Quality of idea) * (Quality of execution) = (Amount of success). If one of these two terms is close to zero, the success will be close to zero, no matter how big the other term is.
I think there’s a very good reason for why savvy entrepreneurs dismiss the (Quality of idea) factor; The reason is that the (Quality of execution) term is usually so low, that success goes to zero regardless of how good the idea is.
In other words, most startups execute really badly on their idea. Most software, whether produced by startups or not, simply sucks horribly. And it’s so easy to blunder on the business side of the startup too. So it’s much more rare for a startup to die from a bad idea than from a bad execution.
The final answer for the question is: A good startup idea is worth a lot only when well-executed, and a good execution is so rare that the worth of the idea is usually irrelevant.
I think I have a good analogy for the worth of a startup idea. A startup idea is like a woman.
(For people who care about political correctness: Substitute “romantic partner” for “woman”.)