OC Emberton

Beware your great ideas

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The surest sign of a doomed wannabe entrepreneur is that they have a “great idea”.

In fact, great ideas are virtually worthless. If you offered me a great idea or a half eaten ham sandwich – well – at least I can eat the sandwich.

Take a look at the rich and famous companies of our age:

Facebook? A copy of MySpace.
Google? A better Yahoo.
Starbucks? A coffee house in the middle of freakin’ Seattle.

These companies did achieve amazing things, but they didn’t do it by having a brilliant new idea. They had surprisingly plain ideas that they rode to a place of brilliance.

Great sounding ideas are dangerous because of what they do to you. They drug your brain with bias. Great ideas excite us so much – that’s why they’re ‘great’ – that they resist logical thought, which leads too many entrepreneurs to drive their businesses with complete confidence over a cliff.

So forget great ideas. What you should care about is timing.

Successful businesses are usually riding the coattails of something bigger. Google cracked search just as the Internet was taking off. Microsoft did the same with Windows and the PC. My first business was creating websites – just when everyone decided they wanted one, and before enough had figured how to make them.

If you enter at the wrong time – well, just ask Bing or Google+ how that’s working out for them.

A lot of this is luck, of course. And don’t mistake good timing for starting first – that rarely works out either, MySpace.

But you can train your eye for it. Look for areas where there is already demand, but the ceiling is far from reached, and the supply is woefully inadequate. If you just exist in that space you’ll probably do ok. If you can excel, well, you might well be building an empire.

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