Any investor will tell you that great business ideas are “dime-a-dozen.” Lots of people have great ideas all the time. Most investors feel that a “great” entrepreneur with a “so-so” idea is much more fundable than a “so-so” entrepreneur with a “great” idea. It’s fine to be a thinker or visionary, but you’ll never build a successful business if you can’t Get It Done and execute.
Professor Sean Wise, who has worked with over 15,000 entrepreneurs (including many with the popular TV shows Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank), says that no matter how great the opportunity and idea, in the end it is only the execution that produces companies and generates wealth.
In his book HOT or NOT: How to know if your Business Idea will Fly or Fail, Wise discusses not only the elements of a good idea and a good pitch, but also the attributes that distinguish entrepreneurs who can deliver from the grandiose idea people:
- Active evangelism: The entrepreneur gets out and actively shares the idea with the people who can help turn the idea into a business, including potential employees, investors, customers, suppliers, friends, and peers. In contract, idea people are often secretive and paranoid that someone else will steal it.
- Open to feedback, and welcoming of skeptical views: Get It Done entrepreneurs always welcome the hard questions and challenge the fundamental questions behind their ideas. They don’t always associate with “yes” people who just tell them what they want to hear.
- Sets and tracks performance metrics: A business has too many moving parts for any one person to be able to manage without a good project management framework. Get It Done entrepreneurs find ways to translate long-term goals into measurable daily action items, and make sure everyone is “rowing in the same direction.”
- Ties rewards to performance: Effective business people establish accountability for achieving key metrics. They don’t hire friends for the sake of friendship, or just pay people for showing up and looking busy. A proper reward structure is a powerful tool for motivating the team to help you achieve success.
- Ties organizational structure to strategy: Forget the “traditional” organizational structure. Build your organizational structure around the value chain so that key roles support your ultimate goal: happy paying customers. Startups don’t need a VP of HR, or a full-time CFO. You need people who can talk to and understand what customers want, and a team who can deliver on those needs.
- Willing to question assumptions and adapt: Most startups pivot at least a few times. The odds of version 1.0 of your business plan being correct are very low. Your business plan needs to be a living document that adapts to new information, new challenges, and new opportunities. Be agile. Let your competitors blindly stay the course and fail.
- Sets a strong example: The leader instills values, passion, and work ethic into the company through example. If the leader can’t keep commitments, neither will the business. Investors are good at spotting and avoiding difficult personalities.
Of course, entrepreneur screening, like opportunity screening, is highly subjective. We all have preconceptions that can fool us into making bad decisions about both people and ideas. The most successful entrepreneurs and investors objectively consider information that refutes their beliefs, rather than seeking out data which might support their confirmation bias.
Successful implementation requires an understanding of the “big picture,” of course, but the devil is in the details. Yet Get It Done leadership is definitely not about micro-managing people or doing it all yourself. It is about “owning” the process and leading others by example.
We all know entrepreneurs who claim that their idea is “the next Google” or is “bigger than Facebook.” Maybe you’re one of them. But it only matters if you can acquire the execution skills needed to turn your idea into a viable business.