Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything.

That's what I tell people when they ask me how they can sell their ideas. There's a general misconception that ideas have some sort of market value, if only one can find a buyer. Sadly, that is not the case. Everyone reading this blog is full of great ideas. But usually we don't have the time, talent, resources, or risk tolerance to pursue them. So we keep our wonderful ideas squirreled away in our heads, where they remain until dementia eats them.

There are exceptions. Some patents have value. But 99.9% of all ideas are not the sort you can patent. McDonalds came up with a great idea for an efficient way to sell dead cows and potatoes, but it wasn't patentable. I came up with an idea of using reader suggestions about the workplace to make comic strips. That worked out well, but the idea isn't patentable. McDonalds succeeded because one person devoted his full energy to making it happen, and he had access to of the resources he needed. Dilbert worked as a comic because I devoted my full energies to making it happen. And thanks to my syndicator, I had the business resources I needed. What happens to all of the great ideas that never match up with the resources that could set them free? Is there a way to unlock the potential of these otherwise wasted ideas?

I think there is a way. And I think it could change the fabric of civilization. With your indulgence, allow me to develop this idea.

The economy works best when we have the right resources in the right combinations at the right times. A few hundred years ago, that was easy. If you wanted to open a business, you just hung a sign on the door and word got around town. You didn't need a lawyer, accountant, IT guy, or a salesman.

Today, starting a business is a thousand times more complicated. But our tools for combining resources in the right combinations are still primitive. In my view, that's why we have a 9.6% unemployment rate in the United States. The rich have money to invest, we have plenty of great ideas, and talent is everywhere. But there's no system for efficiently bring those resources together. 

If you have a potential billion-dollar idea, you might get the attention of venture capitalists or angel investors. But how many people have ideas that good? How do you get funding for an idea that might only make a million dollars? And how many people know how to effectively pitch a project to investors?

On the opposite extreme are the ideas that require very little funding to get off the ground. The story of Facebook is one example. Microsoft is another. And in both cases the miracle of their successes involved extraordinary luck that the resources they needed were readily available.  If you didn't attend Harvard, you might not have a friend who is a programming genius, another friend who has a lawyer dad, and a third friend who can loan you $15,000.

The vast majority of stranded ideas are the ones that are not big enough to interest venture capitalists, yet they do require a both capital and expertise. For the sake of this discussion, let's say that almost any new business in modern times needs ten resources to start.

Human Resources

To free up the value in all of the ideas that would otherwise die of neglect, imagine a web-based service for bringing together all ten resources to support any sort of business idea, but in a special way.

By way of example, suppose you have an idea for creating a chain of ping pong themed restaurants. The business would have lots of tables for rent, along with music, food, and a bar. It's fun for the whole family. I pick this idea because it's already being done, in a fashion, by actress Susan Sarandon. Her ping pong parlor in New York City is called SPiN. More are planned. I picked this idea specifically because it can't be patented. And besides, maybe you want to do yours a different way, or in a different city, than SPiN.

In my imagined future, you start by making a home video of yourself pitching your idea, just as you would to an investor. You upload your video, along with a detailed description of your idea, to a web site where other entrepreneurs around the world are doing the same thing. But instead of simply soliciting funding, you solicit an entire team, based on whatever skills your business requires. The key to making this work is that no one quits his existing job, or provides funding, until all of the resources for the idea are lined up. The main function of the system is making sure everyone's conditions for participation have been met before any risks are taken.

Now imagine that the legal contracts for your new business partners are based on standardized agreements that have been created by the online business to be fair to both sides. There's no wrangling about the legal details. All you need to agree on are the "fill in the blank" stuff, such as who does what, and for what equity or salary. Likewise, the funding agreements are standardized.

As the entrepreneur, you might have a hundred people vying for the job of marketing for your new company. Each person would submit a resume, perhaps some text on how they would approach this specific job, and a minimum compensation requirement. The entrepreneur might choose a marketing expert with weaker experience to keep payroll low, which might in turn cause another potential team member to back out if he thinks the marketing person is too weak for the job. This process of adding and subtracting potential team members would repeat until everyone was happy with the contribution and compensation of everyone else. And during the process, all potential team members could communicate with each other to negotiate deals and refine the idea.

In my ping pong example, you would also need a retail location, an interior designer, and a builder to do the improvements. Those would be three more conditions that the entrepreneur sets up at the start of the process. The business wouldn't launch until all of those elements were in place to the satisfaction of everyone else.

Now suppose you have a great idea for a business and you don't want to be the CEO/entrepreneur/leader. But you still want to make some money from releasing your idea to the world. This imagined web site would allow you to post your video describing the idea, and hire just one person - the project manager - then back out. Your stake in the company, should it ever get off the ground, might be 1%, for example. It wouldn't be so high that the people doing the work would try to cut you out, but still big enough that people with great ideas would have a reason to post them on the site.

By now your mind is racing with all of the imagined problems with a system of this type. I'll anticipate the obvious objections and address them.

First, no one wants his ideas to be stolen.  You would hate to make a video of your terrific idea, put it online, and have someone simply copy it. That would happen. But if you were proposing a ping pong business in a particular town, a potential competitor would think twice before opening one next door. Contrast this to the current system where three yogurt shops opened in my town at about the same time, presumably without knowing that the others had the same plan. If the system I am imagining existed for them, perhaps the first one would have opened and been a success, and the other two entrepreneurs would have made other plans.  My point is that you shouldn't assume it would be bad for the economy if some types of startup plans were to be public. It might fix more problems than it caused.

Next, you might wonder if ten people could ever agree on the same set of conditions to launch a company. While it would be almost impossible to get a specific group of ten people to agree on anything, you could almost certainly get ten people out of the 6 billion on Earth to agree on any reasonable set of conditions. And keep in mind that it's healthy for the economy if the worst 95% of the ideas never happen.  For example, if no lawyer in the world wants to be part of your startup, there might be a good reason for that.

Perhaps you are concerned that making it easier to launch companies would create a lot of weak businesses that would fail. That might be true. But most businesses fail now, and while they are in the process of failing, they generate salaries for employees and revenue for suppliers. A modern economy is comprised mostly of companies that are in some stage of failure, whether they know it or not.  Also, the conditional nature of these future startups might guarantee that only the strongest launch in the first place. It would be hard to get ten people to agree on a weak idea in an environment in which stronger ideas can easily be found.

There's an obvious risk that the system would become crowded with so many atrocious ideas that it would be nearly impossible to find the good ones. That's an issue, but probably one that can be managed. And I would expect some superstars to emerge, who can pump out three great idea videos per week. The good ideas would float to the top.

It helps to have a name for new economic ideas such as this one. What would you call a system that conditionally combines economic resources? I'm stumped.
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Feb 16, 2011
A new startup, http://openinvo.com, is just such a marketplace for ideas.

Check it out!
Nov 22, 2010
Please let me know when this is developed... I have several ideas where I just need one piece or two pieces to the puzzle.

Nov 9, 2010
"An idea is to an innovation what the sex act is to raising a child."

Execution and innovation are two very different things. But since you made a comparison...

Stud fees are extremely lucrative.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 9, 2010
Corporate Curmudgeon Dale Dauten put it this way:
An idea is to an innovation what the sex act is to raising a child.
Nov 5, 2010
A version 1 of this idea could be as simple as placing a job ad to search for people in your team. One of the criteria as you screen people could be "already has a job, but is interested in doing something else."

This is nice because it lets you use the existing marketplace for finding talent. As long as you were up front with people about what your idea is, you wouldn't waste their time if they weren't interested in being entrepreneurial.
Nov 4, 2010
This idea reminds me of a similar one but for the music business. A Spanish web site which name now escapes me put in place a web site where any musician could post his/her/their work so that people could listen to it for free. Listeners could then "pay" the artist with virtual money valid only in the page. When an given artist reaches more than 10.000 units, then the web page owners would sign the artist and fund its first record.

In essence, it is similar idea to the one propose by Scott. It is all about submitting for assessment an idea, if it is a good one then you will find people willing to invest in it. The only difference is that the web page proposed here (which I would name www.CornerStone.com) is more democratic, the "thing" being assess is more complex, and rely on professionalism, good will and commitment of the participants for an idea to fly.

Maybe a good starting point for an idea like this is translated into something similar to the Spanish web page I mentioned. So instead of being democratic. The web page would be used by Investment Banks so that they could get a hold of a torrent ideas and then based on a certain criteria and interest that such an idea awakens in the public, fund it.

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Nov 4, 2010
Seems like it would be worthwhile to allow "teams," on your website. If a lawyer, accountant, and marketing expert all live in the same city and like working together, they could form a team, and one of them could "fill," three slots in the potential business acting a proxy for the other two.
Also, geographical issues might be important, allow searches by region or !$%*! from a designated point (businesses should set a headquarters or potential business location).
I was thinking it would be nice to be able to "bubble up," ideas by how many folks have already signed on, but I worry that 1, it would encourage folks to have three friends sign up for jobs, then drop out once you get folks signed up (gaming the system) and 2. that it encourages lazy folks to sign up for the most popular ideas (the hardworking, proper research folks would look at ideas with no or one sign on, while lazy folks would look to be the last person added).
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 3, 2010
I have a severe case of dejavue with this particular topic. I also find it interesting how so many posters struggle distinguishing between idea and execution.

i don't quite agree that ideas in their own right are worthless, theoretically you could sell ideas to those who want to/are able to execute them if you could find some way to protect it from theft.

ABC televsion in Australia has a program called the new inventors.
being the government run station they have bugger all money but provide a platform for people to market a concept they have invented. These are obviously way past the idea stage as in a lot of cases people have spent years developing concept into workable prototype but maybe it's a step that's missing in Scott's virtual team construct.
Maybe you should add developing a working model/prototype first, trademark or patent that, then set to work with raising capital and starting a business.

just a thought?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 3, 2010
Naming an idea is definately the most fun. And not as pointless as some might think. Would Google be Google without "Google"? Sure, they would still have used the same clever search algorithm and simple interface, but would you and a billion others remember the link?
Anyone still remembering AltaVista?

My ideas for a name:

0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 3, 2010
Already exists:

[It looks as if all it does is bring online the existing inefficient process of pitching to investors. It lacks the conditional aspect of building the entire start up team before launch. -- Scott]
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 3, 2010
O.K. I get it. Scott is having a shot at being modest. Because he himself is an "idea-man" to the extreme, he probably has 10-50 ideas a day. He shows us only the best ones in this blog. Now he wonders why so few of these ideas are being succesfully executed; it must be because the execution is so hard! The modesty comes in when he claims that having the idea is the easy part.

This might be true, i cannot judge it. Or it might be true that a lot of the ideas are too wild, far-fetched or even half-baked. Let alone that half of the time it isn't even clear if the suggestions are serious.

Well that and the fact that the line between idea and execution is pretty vague. If you call it execution to fill in the the details so that the idea becomes more than one sentence, and think the idea through for practicality and look at it critically from all sides, then ofcourse you're right.
Nov 3, 2010
StartPump.com. The site that pumps out startups.
Nov 2, 2010
Great idea Scott - I'd call it pitch.com (domain already taken by Kansas City News...) or newideas.com (name parked)

I like the idea of being able to invite people with different skills to come on board. Not sure how you would monetize pitch.com though - pehaps you could have paid lawyers, funders, HR etc to assess the ideas and charge the "pitchers" a small fee to have their ideas assessed.

Reminds me of the UK TV program called "Dragons Den" where prospective entrepreneurs pitch to 3 business gurus for funding. You could have vote buttons for each idea as well.
Nov 2, 2010
So, when it gets right down to it, an idea has more value when someone has a measure of control over the idea. You also have to have a market for the idea.

When someone reserves a domain name, nobody can copy it. They have to make an offer for it if they want that domain.

[That's more like intellectual property than an idea. -- Scott]

A lot of people have great ideas in the form of jokes. Jay Leno and other comedians pays well for those ideas. If he stole them, he would be a pariah in the entertainment world. If there weren't standup comics and talk show hosts and sitcoms and sketch comedy shows, great new jokes by writers would have little cash value. But with so many people vying for quality humor, your ideas can be pure gold to them. If you think you write great jokes, send them to a comic. If they like your jokes, they will start buying them from you and claim them as their jokes. It happens. Really, it does. You can just come up with the jokes - you don't have to be the standup comic or the TV star. All you need are great ideas that make them look funny when they do their thing on stage.

[A joke is an example of execution, not idea. -- Scott]

In Hollywood, movie ideas are bought and sold over breakfast. Writer: "It's Terminator meets It's a Wonderful Life. Here's a 1-page overview of the concept." Studio Exec: "Great idea, we'll option the concept for $50,000, and bring in someone to write a screenplay with you as creative consultant - it pays $40,000 and we need the screenplay in 4 months. Or you can decline the consultant gig and just stick to the option deal alone."

[That's another example of execution. The hard part is getting a meeting with Hollywood executives and being taken seriously. The easy part is saying, "It's about clones...and guns...and Bruce Willis." -- Scott]

Of course, it helps to know people in the market for your ideas. The Hollywood example is a big stretch compared to many others, but who am I to stifle my own creative process?
Nov 2, 2010
You never know Hank,

I registered 3 domains as part of a website I was creating. I only needed one domain name, but since the hosting package I needed gave me 3 domains, I registered a couple other creative domains.

Lo and behold, several month later, someone offered to buy one of my superfluous domains for about 20 times what it costs to reserve a domain name for a year. Good ROI, but not really worth the hassle, as I could possibly use the domain for my own purposes. After some negotiations (3 rounds of emails), they agreed to my price and the deal was done through an escrow service. Didn't make me rich, but it paid for 5 years of hosting my site, and I spent about 10 minutes thinking about and registering that domain. Other domains have been sold for millions with almost no work done on the execution side, but with a few hours spent brainstorming creative ideas for website names.

Some great ideas require very little execution. Some require more execution than others, and some totally rely on execution. Only one thing is constant...

Nothing happens until someone has an idea.
Nov 2, 2010
On a side note, McDonalds is trying to patent how to sell a dead cow; a process patent on how to make a sandwich:
Nov 2, 2010
I love how the conversation has turned to naming the idea. Naming ideas is, by far, the most fun and least useful part of having an idea. I spend hours at bustaname.com typing in domain names thinking "OO! What if there was a site for fisherman called aFISHionado.com!" and thinking about what a genius I am. There's nothing wrong with it. It's fun...it's like playing tenis with my wife, it makes me smile, it passes the time, and it's never going to make me a god damn dime.

- Hank
Nov 2, 2010
The idea is often more important than the execution. Case in point. Lots of extremely talented theater folks can perform (execute) well. But there are very few Andrew Lloyd Webers generating theatrical ideas that are successful. Any number of talented groups can make Les Mis a success, but few can create the product (idea) in the first place.

Some might say the art of writing a musical is also execution, but I think it is far more part of the idea phase. When someone performs it, it becomes part of the execution phase.

Another example. It's much more rare/difficult to write a successful song (the idea) than to perform a successful song (the execution). There are a finite number of commercially successful songs. Yet some songs have been performed to great commercial success by multiple performers, sometime thousands of performers, if you include all cover bands and wedding singers who make money off performing commercial songs. So there are far fewer successful songs written than commercial performances executed. Once the idea is created, the execution is the easy part when the song (idea) is truly great.

For many great ideas, finding a craftsman or offshore factory to build something is the easy part. Creating the idea so it is spectacular is the make-or-break issue. For other ideas, without a crack salesperson and operations, it could die on the idea vine.

An idea that never gets to the execution stage has little value. But an executer that isn't working has little value, too. It only works when both are present.

Let's just stop saying "Idea People" are somehow lower in the value chain than the executers.

[Andrew Lloyd Weber's idea for a play was "What if they're all cats?" The rest was execution. You're confusing creative talent with ideas. And American Idol proves each season that the execution is far less important than the quality of the song (which was itself an example of good execution and not just an idea). -- Scott]
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 2, 2010
Why not name it "The Sandbox"?

Because in the end, everyone will be fighting over the toys and crying, with all parties diapers in desperate need of changing.

This proposal requires a set of ethics that frankly does not exist. Real life is survival of the fittest, meaning who has the most resources to bleed dry the other guy for possession.

Hhmm, Ok, let’s revise the name to “Darwin’s Sandbox”. Now let’s post a video of my idea so I can gather a team to..., what? Someone’s taken my idea.., and monetized it already? And they have more resources for lawyers than I do? Boo-hoo! Nappies overflowing! ;)
Nov 2, 2010
While not directly related to this issue, I had a great idea this week while listening to all of the political campaigns. I think each candidate should be required to donate half of their campaign funds to charity that has no political connections. That way, every election cycle would result in a burst of charitable funding for various community projects, politicians could be judged by what organizations they donate to (it would be public information), and the economy would improve with the community service and it would decrease the number of annoying ads we have to listen to.

If anyone is interested in establishing a non-profit to push this agenda, perhaps we can use Scott's new resource finding website to make it happen :)
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