It’s not about the idea! It’s all about the people – by “Sebastian P”

You hear it all the time:

“We have this cool new idea that will revolutionize everything!”

“We’ll be the next Facebook!”

“We’re innovating on a social media platform that will not only revolutionize everything you do, but will make us all rich. This is your last chance to jump on!”

As an aspiring entrepreneur (and for anyone who is even remotely interested in the field of entrepreneurship in the digital age), these are just some of the phrases that one hears uttered incessantly in the field. On any given day at Yale, all one has to do is walk through the Bass Library Cafe to overhear a handful of strikingly similar startup pitches to potential members (usually the engineers whom they will need to convince to do most of the work). They ask for NDAs, talk about immediately changing the world, and believe it is only a matter of time before their idea makes it big. Yet, according to a VC firm into which the University invests heavily, Yale produces record lows in terms of entrepreneurs, when compared to MIT, Stanford, and even Harvard.

Why is this? I contend that it’s because of the obsession that we, Yalies and technocrats of the digital age, have with ideas. And while ideas drive our world, ideas are not currency of entrepreneurship.

First, I don’t want to confuse anyone. Idea formation plays a key role in the success of every startup. Ideas are what created Facebook (“let’s connect friends”) and Google (“let’s make search suck less”). A good (borderline great) idea is what will inevitably anchor a company to success.

However, as the parenthetical statements reveal, these ideas are not revolutionary or that hard to think of. The latest tech obsession Instagr.am, is a take on social media and location-based technology in relation to our cell-phone cameras. It’s rumored to have reached a million users and received a $20-million evaluation within 19 days. It’s today’s “next big thing.” Despite this, the technology behind it isn’t that complex, nor are its ideas something so revolutionary that no one else could have possibly thought of it; in fact, we know for a fact that picplz is another startup with the exact same idea around the same time, if not earlier. We all get caught up in how awesome the instagram idea is and lament that we didn’t come up with it first — or we want some credit for having come up with the idea.

XKCD: Business Ideas
Because everyone believes they thought of it first and should get paid...

The true entrepreneurial story behind Instagram is that, according to TechCrunch, the program was built in just eight weeks. Many would consider this to be the value of the idea. But on the contrary, the secret behind this speedy development and release is that the team behind Instagram had worked together on another project, Burbn, for over a year!

Meebo.com, a company founded on AJAX (not the cleaner, but the Asynchronous Javascript and XML) implementation within the browser that allows for Instant Messaging chat, tells a similar story. It was pivot (definition: an entrepreneurial phrase that describes how a company originally set out to do one thing, but does something else) that came from a need that people had (a need to get on an IM client through a Web browser) and the entire thing was built extremely quickly. The team that built it, however, had worked together for much longer than its product’s existence.

Additionally, ideas can be “discovered” independently by many different people around the same time (see earlier reference to picplz vs. instagram). Google and Facebook weren’t the first companies that were founded on the idea (anyone remember Friendster, Myspace, AskJeeves, or even Yahoo?), they just did it better than everyone before them.

What can we draw from these successful companies? How did they do engage in these god-speed pivots? They’re all able to do this because they had the talent pool of founders and developers which allowed them to transition and make their startup goals come true.

Ideas may bring teams together, but the team is what drive a startup. We, as entrepreneurs, should seek to develop relations with engineers, business people, and friends to discover the correct group of people in which to stake our futures.

When all is said and done, if we as entrepreneurs focus too much on how “brilliant” an idea is, we’ll probably end up like the lady in this video.

So do you want to be an entrepreneur? Do you want to be a founder? Skip the social media pitches, the NDAs, the “stealth mode that’ll change everything!”, and instead find talented, intelligent people who you would want to spend sleepless hungry nights working with. Or don’t. More of them for me.

-Sebastian

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