This twitter post by Hiten is as perfect a sentence that can be written and should give hope to every entrepreneur out there. You don’t need to invent the industry, you don’t need to be a pioneer and pave the way and you certainly don’t need to give up because you weren’t first.
There are two camps that people subscribe to — those that invent and those that execute. For the most part, invention is over rated. The odds of an idea being so unique and so timely as well as have a fully-baked business model would be on par with petting a real-life unicorn. In Matt Ridley‘s “How Innovation Works” he details pretty convincingly that innovation is a misnomer for consistent product evolution. This means that ideas happen but timing and execution are the more important parts of the equation and nothing happens over night nor without a lot of heavy lifting.
It is very easy to come up with an idea — although very difficult or near impossible to come up with an idea that hasn’t already been thought of. The hard part is executing properly. This is where the focus on the work happens. Restauranteurs didn’t invent the dining out experience yet there are 1000’s of restaurants in your city. They may have figured out how to get duck fat into their butter but their challenge is the same as most other similar businesses…they need to get people to notice them. They need to execute. They need to do the work. There are no industry monopolies, even niche businesses have competition. Everyone needs to focus on refining and building. Not inventing and waiting.
Shopify didn’t invent online stores. Uber didn’t invent rideshare — they also didn’t invent food delivery, nor did Doordash or Skip The Dishes. UPS, FedEx and the like didn’t invent home delivery and their competition are nationally funded postal services like the USPTO and Canada Post. Apple and Spotify and Amazon didn’t invent the digital music industry — not even Napster did that — yet each has millions of paying users. The macro point here is that invention is over rated and execution is under represented.
As you search your soul for the next great idea, the next technological solve to the world’s greatest problems, divert your attention for one second to how you can build on an existing idea that is already out there. The race is not to the idea. Innovation is for universities, labs and companies with R&D budgets far greater than yours. The race is to win in your field. The race is to bring on customers faster than the others. The race is to build a business by out executing the competition.
Trying to be first is trying to be perfect. Roll up your sleeves and embrace the work to be number 2 or 200. Doing this gives you control over your destiny right now. Waiting for the idea that will let you be first to market means one less business out there trying to compete against me and I’m good with that.