How much is an idea worth?

An incandescent light bulb.

When I left Automattic to start a new company, the first question all my friends and family asked me upon hearing the news was “So what’s your big idea?”. The funny thing is, at the time I didn’t have one. I had no idea what my next company would be and what it would do. This seemed to surprise people.

My take on the matter was that it was more important to figure out the team than the idea. The only thing I had decided at that point was that I wanted to build my next company with the help of Josh Fraser. We didn’t yet know what we wanted to do, but we knew we wanted to work together. To me, the important part was figuring out who I wanted to work with. I figured a couple of smart people could find a problem worth tackling.

This conversation with friends and family lead me to again consider the value of ideas. In my experience, most people value ideas a lot. When they have a good one they hesitate to share it for fear someone will “steal” it. They look at successful companies and say to themselves “If I had just had that idea”. I view ideas very differently. I think a small niche of them are very valuable, but the vast majority have little value in and of themselves. The main reason for this is that ideas are so easy to spread. Once you have an idea, there’s no way for me to take it from you, and spreading it is as easy as a Tweet or a conversation.

So if the idea isn’t the valuable part, what is? In my opinion it’s the ability to execute on the idea that is valuable. My biggest argument for this is a simple hypothetical situation. Imagine you could go back 10, 20, or 100 years – knowing what you know now – how many of the big companies could you have built knowing the basic idea behind them? Even if you knew that the idea behind Google was big, you probably wouldn’t build Google. Even if you knew the idea behind Microsoft, you probably wouldn’t have built that either. Just knowing that there is a lot of value in a specific market or problem doesn’t give you money or success directly. You have to execute on that idea, build the company, hire the right people, out maneuver your competition, etc.

I think we have a great idea with our current company, Torbit, but I think that idea alone won’t bring us success. The company (or companies) who win in this space will win based on their execution of the idea. And I for one, am excited to build this company out.

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