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The true value of an idea

Most "big ideas" are worthless, argue Karl Stark and Bill Stewart at Inc.

Maybe it's the Facebook craze, or the warped view of entrepreneurialism that Hollywood and mainstream media have created.  For ages, young and hopeful entrepreneurs have embraced the fallacy that great ideas are the root of entrepreneurial success and instant wealth. People say, "If only I would have thought of that, I'd be rich!"

Those of us who have built businesses know that success is rarely about the breakthrough idea. Clearly, a good idea is important, but it's just not the source of limitless riches. Real entrepreneurial success most often comes from hard work, risk-taking, and developing a product or solution that creates real value for customers. For example:

  • Instagram was originally a check-in app (Burbn) that evolved to become a photo app because it filled a need in that category more effectively than existing applications
  • Google was a slightly better search engine, and a platform for a number of "free" products that over time turned into an enormous profit generator
  • McDonald's thrived by making tasty, cheap hamburgers
  • Starbucks offered better quality coffee in a pleasant environment
  • Dell manufactured PCs better, cheaper, and faster than rivals

Working with CEOs, investors, and entrepreneurs to build new businesses, we've found that many initial ideas are frankly not worth much. Most eager entrepreneurs overvalue the initial idea and falsely believe that a unique idea is the key to value creation. They will even create extreme secrecy around the idea in the hopes of creating a first-mover advantage-which itself is not all that valuable in most cases.

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