By far the biggest risk to any idea is that it never gets off the ground. It’s orders of magnitude more likely that you’ll get a zero outcome than anything else. Zero users. Zero adoption. Zero product.
For anyone in this position, you’d be better off if the idea was stolen. Because at least you’ll be known as the original version of the thing that big tech ripped off. That’s almost certainly good for a few percent market share. Which is way better than zero.
I would calmly explain to them that the biggest risk was the product either never launching our fading into obscurity, and that if the idea was truly valuable it would be copied regardless of what I do, and that I'd actually researched dozens of last campaigns and found that the projects that put less effort towards "protecting" their IP had better long-term prospects. OSHW projects received significantly more funding and lasted significantly longer post-campaign.
Despite this, every single person I spoke to would still insist that I was making a mistake. I genuinely believe that there is some sort of caveman anti-cuckoldry reflex at play here. The visceral image of a counterfeiter getting rich from your hard work motivates people to act against that outcome even if it's not in their best interest.
For what it's worth, the project is still popular 5 years later, nobody has cloned it commercially and it generates enough passive income for me to live off of I so desired.
 It's an all-in-one USB oscilloscope, signal generator, power supply etc. board, https://espotek.com/labrador
If I had a nickel for every time I've seen that... I've met enough of these types as a freelancer that I have a fairly hard rule of not doing business with people who think their ideas are the most valuable contribution. Even if they have money I will avoid them because they're not worth the hassle (although the two are rarely seen together).
If you think your idea is that easy to steal then you have no idea how the implementation will work at any level. The odds that you have identified some truly "low hanging fruit" is exceptionally low. It's probably that you just don't value any contributions but your own.
Not because I had something to hide, but so I could whip one out when someone was evasive about what they were working on.
I wasn't very popular at the time.
Apparently me and the person at their ship behind that project were the only people in the world interested in the idea.
Mine was just a hobby and was never going to make money. What was fun about it was that it was original, and I was the only person doing it, and it had a fun little community and it got some press, too. It was rewarding in a social sense, a fun hobby.
That other guy probably thought there might have been a little bit of commercial benefit to it, or SEO benefit. He launched his site - the same system, just "his" instead of mine. It seemed like the community started getting quiet - they felt awkward about the new site since he was a prior community member. The whole experience soured me on the idea and I started losing interest too.
I eventually took my site down. His site is still going and he's since updated it to generate its content automatically, but it appears to get zero traffic, and has zero community. It's a weird feeing, kind of like being replaced by something soulless.
I don't know what my point is - you could definitely argue that that's just the way it goes sometimes, that I got some fun out of it, and people are always free to try and implement the same thing you do, it's not like I had a patent. But I also feel like the other site contributed to me losing motivation to keep mine going as a hobby, and his site didn't go anywhere either, so overall it feels like a net negative to whatever tiny bit of culture was living at that time.
The problem was no one actually cared to look at that data, which kindof made the entire thing moot. The data itself had to do with government spending; which added layers of bullshit that I tried to avoid even hearing of.
In reality, you can even launch products that compete with big boys like Facebook or Google due to their bureaucratic nature, hunger for only billion dollar markets, institutional knowledge blindness, etc.
The corollary to this is that if you tell five people your idea and they all go off and work on it alone, they’ll come back with five different products.
So my opinion is that you shouldn’t worry about telling people your idea because literally no one will understand or appreciate it the way you do.
Your idea is not just a single fact, it’s a north start. Only someone who can see the north star can follow it all the way to the end. And if you try to point out the north star to someone else, they will inevitably pick a nearby but different star to follow.
Also, it is my experience that others often don't see the merit of your idea as clearly as you do, don't see the end-result that is so clear in your mind.
To have your business succeed, you need to win on execution... if you don't think you can do that, you aren't going to win through secrecy.
You mean like Microsoft or Google? :-)
It's a very important consideration when you're dealing with the HN crowd for example. It's not that ideas are valuable; and it's not that someone won't eventually copy you. It's that a headstart can be extraordinarily valuable to ensuring you have a shot at succeeding, especially if you're competing at a considerable disadvantage on labor or capital (much less both). Every bit of headstart matters if you're in such a disadvantaged situation.
Unnecessarily assisting your competition is just a form of self-crippling, self-sabotage. It's possible to be smarter about that.
It doesn't have to just be an idea that gets ripped off, it can also be implementation. You may have worked through some of the early difficult problems and have done things in a very specific way. Maybe it took you a year or more to get to that point, to resolve lots of problems that were in the way (the basic idea may have arrived in a flash by contrast). If you're foolish about who you show that resolution to and when, you just plausibly saved your competition a lot of effort of trial & error while you're at your most vulnerable stage. Not a saving of time and effort in the idea space (the trivial part), rather, in the very hard grinding trenches work of iterating through the early stages of a product or service (not always the case of course, as some ideas are trivial to implement). Your competition can now skip a lot of that figuring-it-out work you did, courtesy of you showing them how the idea can or should be implemented. They're free-riding on your valuable labor.
The retort to that is: yeah but they can just do that later anyway. Right, and that's where having some headstart is so critical, so valuable. This is the early aspect that always gets context dropped in these HN discussions, as though it's not a thing in business.
Having traction before the VC funded clones come after you, is a lot better than not. Do not make things easier for them; you can be certain they're not going to make things easier for you.
You'll see a lot of arguments on HN that you should just blast what you're doing widely, tell everyone, shout it from the rooftops, because if you're going to lose, you're going to lose regardless, and ideas aren't valuable, and so on and so forth. That's the false setup, it's just plain wrong. It's too simplistic in claim, when the reality is very nuanced. Sure, ideas are not the valuable thing, however a headstart is very valuable. So the point is to be intelligent about that balance, about when and who you start sharing what you're working on with (if it matters in a commercial sense to have a headstart, which is not always the case; for some projects you may hope to be copied).
So for example, if early traction for your business can be gained from a base of non-tech customers that are not as capable of or interested in competing with you, then it may be far more rational to target that group first, rather than blasting what you're doing to venture capitalists + techies (who are always aggressively scouting for the next start-up thing to pursue) that can clone you far more easily and outrun you in the resource category. Having a headstart - weeks, months, years - can make all the difference as to whether you even have a slim shot at survival.
Saying always blast out what you're doing widely, or never tell anyone what you're doing - both are more likely false setups. There's probably a better, more nuanced approach that is advantageous to your particular context.
Someone else copying you doesn't need to go through all that. They don't need to walk in your shoes down to all the dead ends that you visited on your way to reaching enlightenment. They simply need to see your "Manage Frammels" screen and then have their own instant "aha" moment.
It's usually blindingly obvious what sort of data model lives behind the screens. And it's unlikely you have any killer edge in your UI code, or any of your code really (talking about SaaS here - not esoteric fields like database engines etc).
Copying is so much easier than creating. That's why having a head start is vital.
I have this thought sometimes with regard to software used to store/execute ideas. For example doing a zoom meeting on something. Or using Trello to log concepts/tasks (encrypted at rest). I mean work uses Jira you know... Also emailing. Code on GitHub. But everything goes through an ISP and data centers that aren't yours, encryption that can have backdoors. Yeah I know stupid thinking. I know it's paranoid and more than likely what I would work on is worthless anyway.
Yeah the zero users thing is real, it's so easy for people to say "this idea is amazing, revolutionary" and the promise of equity. At least I get my hourly up front.
Hence not to be fixated on idea and instead focus on the problem. If one thinks about the problem, they have less qualms about sharing it and asking 'Hey do you face this problem too?'
I found this the hard way in my previous entrepreneurial tenure by obsessively building high effort products just because 'I can' and not really trying to find out whether it really solves a problem which people want to be solved. Obviously many of it ended in failure.
In order to change this I started a problem validation platform two years ago which has problems as first class citizens.
So now whenever I have a problem which I feel is worth solving I submit it on needgap, If I have an idea to solve it I post in the comments. This way, I either find out existing solutions which I have missed out (or) That there are other people who want it to solved (or) Even better idea to solve the problem.
I moved to Canada from Aus right at the start of covid - which made meeting new people without my existing networks already challenging. I fell into the trap of being so cautious of who I’d speak to, instead of working on building my networks and asking for help (particularly from people who seemed to want to help). Surprise - I didn’t make anywhere near as much progress as I had planned.
So that being said - if anyone has know how building for iOS/swift (specifically AR Kit) and is interested in working on a fun project (or wanting a side project) - reach out! I’d love to chat and/meet new people particularly on this side of the world.
its still early days though!
This is brilliant. I am going to use this next time someone tells me they want to give me equity for building their entire product.
Boy, does that sound familiar. In my experience, they'll also get most of the money and credit, and will plan to kick me to the curb, once it gets to alpha.
> I hate to break it to you, but your idea–any idea, really–is worthless. An idea only has value when it is executed, and it only has a lot of value when it’s executed well.
And that "executed well" is important. I have seen so many promising ideas and systems destroyed by being written by "lowest common denominator" implementation talent.
He talked about how one of his books basically sat on the shelf for ages (possibly a year), he just couldn't get the idea to work, until one day he came back to it and figured it out. People massively underestimate how much work it takes to turn an idea for a story into a working novel with a coherent plot and characters.
In sci-fi and fantasy I think this is particularly obvious. There's a lot of sci-fi that has an interesting idea or concept at it's heart, but the actual story just falls flat. I think it's why short stories are often a better format for sci-fi ideas.
Similarly I've encountered a lot of fantasy that was all about world-building but where the book itself just went nowhere. World building is kind of easy compared to actually writing a novel with a compelling story. It seems to be common for aspiring fantasy authors to spend years doing the former and never getting round to the latter.
A common piece of advice often repeated for fiction writing: when you finish your novel, leave it untouched for a few months (e.g. six months). When you return to read it again with a fresh eye, you'll spot all the clunky passages, clichés, and poorly written characters you didn't spot when you were immersed in the writing. The space of a few months gives you a more critical eye.
That's the advice. Whether writers actually heed it I don't know. (A pause of some months might feel too long for some writers itching to be published.)
It’s like bands that spend years polishing their sound, but never actually write any songs.
I'd actually be interested to read some of those - I wish there was some kind of standard media form for that. E.g. I enjoyed reading the Eclipse Phase sourcebooks much more than actually playing the game. And while I didn't actually enjoy Christopher Priest's The Islanders, I liked the idea of the form.
Source: have written several unreadable novels.
(Caveat: publication is competitive at these magazines/anthologies. Good luck to you.)
A bit like stories such as Sherlock Holmes’ were initially published in episodically in newspapers.
Many platforms now offer subscriptions options, so it definitely could work.
That still leaves the discovery & editing issues though.
Any thoughts on that?
Edit: I know that for webtoons (korean comics) subscription is turning into a reality, at least in English markets. Not sure about how's it in Korea though
The Screwtape Letters (C. S. Lewis) were done that way.
Lots of prior art. Also, it makes the books easier to read.
that earns money.
There's even a bit of information in there about using your computers text-to-speech tool for editing. You have it read the book back to you in order to catch mistakes.
I tell them instead, "Great idea, you should learn to program so that you can write it."
While that sounds snarky, I am sincere. I explain to them that is exactly why I am a programmer: I wanted to write my own computer games so badly that I learned programming in order to do it.
I should add, since developing for iOS, now it's "I've got a great idea for an iPhone app!"
I'm sure there's a lot of spaces where there's room for a better app, but I can't imagine there's much space left for money-making apps that have no competition today. I believe there are such spaces, but we're probably talking species-wide blind spots at that point, and you probably aren't the first to penetrate whatever the veil is.
Ask yourself, if there is one thing that I might be able to think of, that almost nobody else in the world can, what would it be? What unique combination of experiences, perspectives, talents, etc do I have that is extremely uncommon and what unique ideas can I think of because of this?
Not super practical in this case since the odds of success are still pretty low(but not 0), but looking at things this way can be useful in other scenarios as well. It's kind of similar to how I often spin negative experiences into a positive in my head, they're still experiences and experiences can always be useful, especially if they're unique
These days, the big guys can just trample over small ones, and use the list of patents they have as a counter-sue threat against other big guys. Small guys are constantly threatened by big guys with patent lawsuits, they can't really dream about enforcing a patent a large guy. Even if they have the perfect patent they just get bought up for it. And now the patent is part of that big list mentioned above, where it can be used for development or just sit in a drawer and have the project killed just so that competition can't use it.
Say you manage to fix this, but then you go to China and they will copy everything you do and sell an exact replica the next day with impunity.
There is no win, I don't see any benefit of patents in the western world today, they're only used to slow technological progress - the exact opposite of the intent.
What am I missing here? This is a very shallow take with my little knowledge, but I just don't see the benefits of patents.
OK. Has this ever been true?
I remembered a story about the Wright brothers suing competitors and engaging in a patent war, instead of spending their time and energy continuing to innovate.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? These Chinese firms made open source 3D printers more accessible to the hobbyist communities, and some of them are even known for quality. Granted, some of them cut corners so much that a burning 3d printer became a meme.
3D printing as a hobby only becomes a thing once the patent expired.
I am sympathetic to the idea of the small inventor trying to make it in the world. But people, big and small, corporations and individuals, can and did abuse patents, even innovators.
It pains me that I have to explain this to adults on HN, but: yes, this is bad. The foreign investor/customer paid dearly with time and money for the research and development. The factory runs an additional night shift and makes another batch of product. They then sell the night shift products at a reduced price undercutting the original vendor because they do not have to recoup the development costs. The vendor with the higher price cannot sell his stock of product because the demand is already satisfied from the cheaper night shift product.
OK. That wasn't what I am talking about. I am talking about 3d printer vendors entering the market, not being duplicitous about it. 3d printers are often open source, completely out in the open. So you would naturally expect clones.
So there's no duplicitous dealings going on here.
There are definitely cases where an innovator gets a patent and then is able to make a successful company that makes life better for everyone, even in software (e.g. RSA). Pick your favourite small inventor success story (Dyson?) and they most likely have a patent on whatever it is they made. The argument for patents is that they make that kind of basic research profitable (including for hobbyists) and therefore encourage more of it to happen. It's very hard to actually confirm that counterfactual one way or another, but it sounds logical at least.
The big corporations have the resources to build and sell the invention and defend against a patent lawsuit regardless.
Moreover, the big corporations already can use patents against smaller competitors and can fund more R&D to get patents and can simply sit on it.
Also, it isn't always a good idea to disclose how your stuff work. For example, SpaceX doesn't do that because the Chinese government will copy their stuff. Not that it matters. The problem with the space industry is that the old space contractors and governments rest on their laurel even when SpaceX became the Goliath of the Space industry.
You think one pathetic patent would stand up against a FAANG’s warchest, if they really wanted to implement it? They will use your idea and bury you with their own patent portfolio, unless you license it under terms that are generous and favorable to their interests. If you want to play hardball, they will use their lawyers to drown you in legal debt before a judge ever hears the case.
In this light, it should be clear that innovation has been completely crushed under the heel of the present system of fascist corporatism. Eliminating patents will not solve that overarching problem, though we know such an outcome would never be permitted to happen. Patent pools do not solve it, as that sacrifices the autonomy and independence that is the very essence of being a small fish.
You can sell your patent to a troll that can stand up against FAANG.
When I was taught to read a patent, I was told to skip to the claims, and the rest was useless except to provide definitions for words used in the claims. The description is _supposed to_ allow another practitioner to reproduce the invention, and many engineers who write patents do take the trouble to do this right. But as far as I know, the patent office does not verify that the description is valid or useful. They do try to check for novelty. I've also heard advice that engineers should avoid reading any patents because when there's a patent fight, damages are greater for willful infringement. Given that the usual practice is to ignore a patent's technical description, is a patent really useful as a disclosure of methodology? It seems like in practice, the only point is to plant a legal claim on some intellectual territory. As you note, the legal aspect may have genuine benefits, but the technical disclosure aspect seems to be useless.
If independent invention were a valid defense and the terms were a bit shorter then the only patents which would actually affect your business would be those which you legitimately couldn't come up with on your own (which seems like the point of the whole system -- you get a monopoly and we get blueprints in return). Shorter terms of 5-10 yrs would allow for faster iteration on important ideas.
Alternatively, compulsory license agreements like you have for some aspects of music could substantially reduce the chilling effect on new inventions. You don't have to worry about somebody suing for multiples of revenue; you just always have the ability to pay a reasonable royalty -- the patent owner still gets handsomely compensated, but important new inventions can start rolling out immediately.
Or else if the bar to get patents were a little higher then the system would work a lot more smoothly. The fact that cloudflare was able to invalidate the vast majority of patents when a troll sued them strongly indicates they shouldn't have been awarded in the first place even under current guidelines.
So there's absolutely nothing at all to prevent a situation where you put time and money into developing something, and as soon as it gets legs, a megacorp instead of buying you out or licensing it from you, just copies it and pushes you out of the market?
I'm open to the idea of some intellectual property rights remaining (like the "natural rights" you see in a lot of the world, or retaining current trade secret laws), but I still think we'd be in a better place than we are now if the current system were completely abolished.
Moreover, these patent lawsuits mean that said inventors spend more time talking to their lawyers instead of getting these inventions to market.
In principle, a patent is supposed to cover this. The text of the patent has to provide a recipe for reducing the idea to practice. As I understand it, if the recipe is unworkable, the patent is void.
Whether the patent office is stringent enough about this requirement is an open question of course. It may vary from one field to another. For instance, a patent for a new kind of optical lens is required to include a complete "prescription" for the lens, which is recognized as a sufficient set of data needed to replicate the idea. (One of my patents is like that).
Better than an obnoxious oligarch controlling all ideas forever, which could happen if you completely abolish patents. Do you have any more nuanced (i.e. realistic) suggestions for reform?
Even if you do, the second you do it and it sells, it gets copied in China faster that you can say IP.
I work in the display industry. I've never heard that e-ink "stuns" the development of technology. Could you elaborate on your meaning? Please see my comment history to see why I keep asking about this.
Network effects and the ability to spend 100x what you can raise to destroy you as an example to others or just to duplicate it. I mean, great, you have a new SQL Server. I'll even grant that it's 1,000x better/faster/etc than the current SQL because you sprinkled fairy dust everywhere. How are you going to roll it out to customers before Oracle/Amazon/MS/Google reverse engineer it and deploy it to all their existing customers?
At least with IP, there is a bidding war among those companies to buy out your tech - you'll probably get paid. And a limited period of ownership before the world gets the benefit universally.
Don't blame yourself. It's okay to not finish something.
Sometimes I just want to prove to myself that something is possible. That I'm not insane for thinking it. Once the result is clear, I usually lose interest. It turns into the exact kind of boring execution work the article's talking about. Better to find some new idea to explore...
I would not accept a 50/50 split where he "has the idea" and I do the software. I wouldn't even accept a 50/50 split if the Idea Partner also does a little sales and marketing. I would maybe accept 50/50 if the Idea Partner also provided all the capital. Now we're talking...
I've been reading about business history for decades, I enjoy it. I can't think of an example that matches that setup. Ideas like the pet rock or chia pet or electronic dancing flower pots jump to mind, however my thinking is immediately that: well, they weren't such terrible ideas then, lots of people wanted to buy those things.
A combination of disposable income and endless desire to be amused/entertained, is a potent consumption formula. The pet rock for example was a relatively inexpensive tchotchke of very temporary curiosity and amusement. People love to be amused, entertained and to have trinkets to talk about or show off. A lot of seemingly bad ideas fall into that space.
Many, many companies make bank, by taking classic ideas, and executing them well.
It's like Joe Cocker made many obscure songs into mega-hits.
Until done properly, or combined with other ideas or good marketing.
Until they make money, they are derided as "terrible ideas."
However, HOWEVER, there are/were some gigantic risks Airbnb was taking, I will agree with you on that -- the risk of people staying at random strangers' houses and the wide spectrum of horrifying experiences that can lead to. There's an excellent Bloomberg article that does a deep dive into Airbnb's somewhat-shady "Trust and Safety team".
The point I'm trying to make is that although the idea came with certain inherent risks, skillful execution can mitigate those risks significantly. Similar risks were also attached to Uber's idea of random strangers offering rides to people, and those risks were somewhat mitigated as well.
 archive.md link: https://archive.md/nyBFY
 original article link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-06-15/airbnb-sp...
Unless you consider successful communication an "execution" phaze.
But ya, if we're talking about "making machines". You could call that a way of communicating via solid example.
It reminds me of the generative art scene. So many valuable ideas communicated via relatively lightweight example. More lightweight than, say, a whole big game.
reminds me of some guys that once contacted me.
"We are five business people who have a cool idea for an app and now we need you to build with us!"
Like, even IF we would split equity equally, 6 people to start with, wth?
Ideas are a dime a dozen.
I don’t know, there are a lot of games out there that are “well executed” that no one plays. Lots of indie developers who repeatedly make hits, and yet still no one finds (or finds) their next game.
These takes are kind of obnoxious.
The reason AAA developers almost never innovate and instead just release the same game year after year with new sequels is that good game ideas are extremely rare. Most games wont sell well enough to make back the money if you pour 100 million into making them, so each AAA studio haves one or two ideas that they know will sell and then they just repeat it.
Indie developer are the ones building new ideas and they do it for a very small amount of money. See factorio, hollow knight, valheim, darkest dungeons etc, lots of games that sold many millions beating many AAA studio products with new ideas and very modest budgets.
It just goes to show how obnoxious, again, this kind of take is. I don’t get why people are so obsessed with purity of creation in games.
Something I've noticed is all idea guys I've encountered were inspired to (in)action by Steve Jobs. But it's obvious that it's his keynotes (rather than work ethic or excruciating focus to detail) that resonate with them. Just an anecdote, but it's like clockwork.
The iPod? Not the first MP3 player. The iPhone? Not the first smartphone, not even the first with a capacitive touchscreen.
He was the kind of guy who makes round corners, not the one who invents the GUI. And in the end, he won because round corners among thousands of other details are what make a device nice and usable.
These wannabes tend not to have all (or any) of these skills and attributes.
No kidding? People actually say this unironically?
Michael Keaton's character says it.
>Why? Because your friend actually did something with their idea. They created something. It may be terrible, but at least it exists. They’re now informed about how to proceed based on something real, something tangible.
I recall an article (or maybe it was a comment) posted on HN about someone who was very engineering focused about their start up. They focused heavily on code quality and product quality. Their product was said to be rock solid.
They had a good thing going in a space they believed would be huge.
Then over a few months a competitor showed up with a janky / flaky product and took all their customers. This new competitor output new features left and right, they often didn't work well, but they existed (unlike the startup in question).
It janky product, it was Salesforce.
Finding that 'executed well' in this case was getting features out the door.
"Executed well" could just be a matter of recognizing "right now we need to get these features out the door". How / when ... who knows how you figure that out.
Product-market fit and feature velocity is like 50+% of the execution advantage of startups.
A few hours on widget ... suddenly customers grapple onto this simple widget as a big reason to buy.
Who knows how you figure that out...
"Worse is better" is something big companies can't do very well, and it's why they usually end up buying their innovations from the small companies that still can (until they're fully swallowed up and lose the ability to innovate, too, at which point there are always more startups to buy!).
Granted I have my experience with plenty of customers who really are making random decisions, but I'm constantly surprised how often I'll review some feature limits with a customer and they're all "yeah we'll need those".
But then we'll give them a beta without those features, it's kinda buggy..... and they love it.
The quality and utility ratios are a spectrum and finding those for a given widget is an unknown for me.
And I don't have customers, but deal with this with my product manager. He just won't stop adding stuff to the backlog.
I still write ideas down but now I'm content to let them sit for a bit and see which ones pop up over and over. The good ones you can't really seem to forget about. Those are the ones I am most likely to take action on.
However: I have many ideas, but don't know which one to throw myself behind 100%. I can execute well, and in my day job I am executing all the time for somebody elses business. Why don't I make the jump and become an entrepreneur myself? Because I don't know which of these ideas are actually any good - in the sense that they have "market fit" and somebody willing to pay for it. And even if you have a potential market, the barrier to entry is often ridiculously high.
So far, I have not found a single idea that is actually viable as a business for me.
I have a lot of great ideas: A new kind of calendar app; a new declarative plotting library that uses CSS; a friend-of-a-friend P2P app that piggybacks on your existing contacts; smart light switches that physically flip when you switch them remotely. If I pour myself behind any of those, I'll make a great product that people will enjoy but I will likely end up broke because none of them is a viable business.
Now if I find a novel problem that I can solve - lets say a friend tells me that all municipal governments really need a certain app to track tenders or potholes or daycare slots and are willing to pay for it. Or I can use some obscure thing from my studies to fix a big problem in an industry. Then this idea becomes really valuable. I'm never going to be the only person in the world to be able to solve a given problem, but I can be the first. The execution is secondary, because a lot of execution is mediocre, and you just have to be good enough. The opportunity is everything.
While that's true, you still have to execute. And when you see mediocre execution, that's still someone who put in the work.
In the context of games, which are more like creative works fighting for mindshare, an idea is analogous to a business opportunity, which is to say that the idea/opportunity will likely look different once it's actually executed on, and that journey is the valuable part even if it fails.
That's not to discredit someone who is good at identifying opportunities. That's a wonderful skill. But I think the author's take which I agree with is that someone who tries to execute, even with a flawed idea, makes more progress than someone who has an idea/strategy/proposal.
Also I think it's important to point out that this blog post is in the context of (board)game design. Everyone has an idea and the vast majority are under-baked, and the process of designing it and playtesting it is how you calibrate on what other people actually like or find fun. I think that's analogous to, say, tech startups, but game ideas are even cheaper than startup ideas.
> friend-of-a-friend P2P app
> smart light switches that physically flip
That sounds pretty awesome in a hilarious way, though very unlikely to be commercially viable because what does it really offer over momentary switches other than cool factor?
Also I checked and even this idea isn't new: https://hackaday.com/2018/01/18/solenoids-and-servos-for-sel...
My point is that he is right. Ideas are 10 a penny and most have already been thought of. (Btw check out Half Bakery for a collection.)
The thing that's difficult is actually implementing it well.
The point about the self-actuating switches is to make them as close as possible to a conventional switch, for the spouse-acceptance-factor. Also I really hate "tap buttons" for light switches. The next step would be a dimmer, not a using a flimsy rotary encoder (that turns around infinitely and reacts slowly) but an actual potentiometer that moves when you change it remotely. There are such potis in high end studio equipment. I think this idea actually has merit and there is a market for premium haptic interfaces, for example in cars. But it is hard to make a MVP and get a foot in.
It strawmans “ideas.” 95% of programming for example is ideas and ideation and communicating those ideas, only 5% is typing. But if you define “ideas” as being what some clueless jerk with their head in the clouds thought of while on the can and then lorded over their peasant implementors, of course ideas look worthless
This has as much to do with Timing the Market  as with the actual Idea itself or even its 'quality of implementation' as a multiplayer effect.
There are good ideas and there are bad ideas, and the value they hold is different. Executing on a bad idea is a waste of time. If anything, bad ideas are negative multiplier because they reduce the value of executing to below zero - you'll lose time and money if you try to build them.
With good ideas executing them will yield rewards. They're a positive multiplier - the better the idea, the greater the rewards.
The problem is telling whether or not an idea is good or bad before you start.
We've also most likely encountered an "idea person" at least once in our lives -- someone who has a thought, and wants us (or just someone else) to build it for them, in exchange for a "generous" 50/50 split (or worse).
With the above being said, some ideas probably are worth more than others. Imagine someone with decades of experience and success in their industry comes to you with a novel new approach to something they know deeply about -- you'll probably treat their idea with a good amount of respect, vs someone pitching you an idea in an industry they have no knowledge or experience in.
Normally, however, someone with decades of experience and success will also have the means for execution -- they won't need help from anyone, unless it's someone they know they can similarly trust to help in their execution. So you might not hear these type of ideas through an idea pitch competition.
I write my ideas down, even the ones that I see not financial value in (heavily use Trello but for long term storage I used Zim, and have now transitioned into Obsidian), since there was a time and energy investment (not to mention the time and place context that I was in when the idea grew, and might never come up again) so throwing it away would be wasteful.
Parts of these ideas are then refactored over time, bits and pieces removed or added, and in the end I might have something that is viable.
Currently am in the process of implementing one that has gone through this process over a 5 year time period.
What has the world come to that you need to make this disclaimer.
I play around with many ideas for fun, implementing them knowing full well there is no way to monetize them.
What gets me, though, is the "I KNOW it'll make a million dollars..." part. How do you know? What market research have you done? Do you have any data at all that backs that statement up? They never do.
It's never been easier to build amazing things in technology, but it's not magic.
You still have to do the damn work!
Edit to add: And the work doesn't stop once the app is built. You have to market it. I worked with a guy who had an idea, had money to put into it (e.g.; to pay me to build it), was in the industry so he understood the problem he was solving, thus, and most importantly, needed this product himself. He even put money into hiring a professional designer so the app looked great when it was done. However, what he didn't factor in that at that point, he had to go sell it. The app hasn't made a dime since it launched because he didn't want to do the sales and marketing work.
By the way; I've had that same scenario happen twice.
This feels like a point of view that's so far detached from reality that you almost suspect it was made up, but judging about the amount of people I've met who have "priceless ideas" I guess it's depressingly common.
It's also a point of view that you can only keep if you've literally never built anything in your life. Anyone who has tried to take an idea from theory to practice knows that there's -- in comparison to the amount of work required to formulate the idea -- an excruciating amount of work. Unless you're extremely motivated, more often than not you will quit half way, because of vastly underestimating the amount of effort needed.
This blog post is much too forgiving in saying that "your idea is valuable" in the first place: it's not. Ideas are useless. They're a dime a dozen, and most successful ideas that materialized in the world were derivatives of ideas that already existed, just executed better.
Facebook wasn't a new idea. The iPod wasn't a new idea. Google wasn't an new idea, it was just a better search engine. The amount of "winning ideas" can be counted on one hand, everyone else just had to put a massive amount of work into improving something that kind of already existed.
> This feels like a point of view that's so far detached from reality that you almost suspect it was made up, but judging about the amount of people I've met who have "priceless ideas" I guess it's depressingly common.
Sometimes, the idea is the hard part. Sometimes, execution is the hard part. Sometimes money is the hard part. When you are building a product or a business, there are always things that you have to do that you don't know how to do, can't afford to do, or don't have the time to do. Sometimes, there's no one in the world that can. Ultimately, the things that are hard are the things that end up being costly to solve - be it money (hiring someone), marketing (great product if only the whole universe knew), equity (cofounder), runway (I need three years). The answer is different every time, and once in a while, the idea is the hard part... not very often, though.
Then there's the types that have so many ideas but so little focus and persistence to see an idea all the way through.
So the spectrum of people that have a good idea that they understand well, and a vision for that product, and can also either build it themselves or lead a team to do so is pretty thin.
There were plenty of grocery delivery flops before Instacart and FreshDirect got off the runway. Stop flattering yourself that your idea is that good.
Fast forward five years later when unexpectedly I became a game designer-- everything I learned in that class was gold.
Execution and market positioning are everything.
I'm gonna use that, as this is something people understand. But he forgets to add that you'll also need to get a venue, and customers too. Oh wait, it will sell itself, right?
More like 95/5 in their favor… :/
Consider ClubHouse - remember them? It's a great idea and every single big player has cloned them into their product.
Consider facebook itself - the movie says that the idea was from the Winklevoss twins but MZ lifted it.
You're crazy if you think a really really great idea is worthless and should be shared around. If you've got a truly groundingbreaking idea then you should get as far ahead as you possibly can before going public with it.
Ideas are not inherently worthless - an idea is an ingredient and there are lots of people out there with the other ingredients to turn it into something awesome.
MOST ideas however aren't likely to be amazing and will be hard to convince people to believe in.
That has a Chicken-or-the-Egg problem.
You need high level talent and resources to develop your 'High Quality Implementation'; but those talents and resources only start to become available, at least to us mere mortals, if there is already an MVP Prototype in hand to work with.
Squaring that Circle, while still holding on to the steering wheel, is a big part of crossing the chasm from a potential Idea to a real world product you can bring to market and test if it actually was a good Idea to work with in the first place.
The publisher has a lot of dedicated fans as a result, and several of their games have been extremely well received (Scythe, Viticulture, and Wingspan in particular).
Why do I mention this one here? Because I teach at a University, and I have heard this one at least once a year for over a decade.
(My response is pretty honest - e.g."it really sounds like a great idea, and I don't know why it hasn't been done. Go for it, and I'll be happy to help if you have specific questions." But "how do I get this off the ground?" Nooope. Figure it out.)
I hear so often, "I have this amazing idea and nobody is doing it yet!" and my first thought is, "There could be, and likely is, a reason for that: nobody will pay for it."
There are many different factors that affect end value: execution, value to others, luck, timing, etc.
The end value is all those factors multiplied.
Even if your idea is great (is large factor) you can still get zero value if any of other factors is zero.
Worth noting, that if you don't plan to execute on an idea it is effectively worthless.
If you take a look at any historical "idea men" that have also been successful (like Edison) you will notice that they did much more than just produce ideas. They produced ideas but then executed on them, provided real value to others, had these ideas at the right time, had some luck, etc.
Specifically, I would restate the author's thesis as "an idea without execution is worthless."
But what about execution without an idea? That happens all the time too. People have a goal, have no ideas as to how to accomplish that goal, so just brute force it. The result is often a wart that damages the cohesiveness and usability of whatever it was applied to.
I'm speaking in general terms -- it might be a "disruptive" company that captures value without creating any. It might be a UI feature that violates the mental model and thus makes the entire UI hard to learn. It might be a copycat app that adds to the noise of the marketplace. Even if something is executed just as well as the thing it's cloning, that thing already existed. We don't need two of them. If nothing is being added, then something is being subtracted from the overall system.
I'll confess, I've described myself as an idea guy. But I don't mean "ideas only", I mean "ideas also". As in, if I'm part of a team trying to accomplish X, I'll come up with a dozen different ways that we could approach the problem. Sometimes it results in a dramatically simpler implementation, sometimes it results in wasted time going through and discarding a bunch of dumb ideas that don't pan out. Sometimes it results in solving a set of related problems at the same time with little to no additional cost. Or pawning off the solution to a different group.
Don't tell me those ideas are worthless!
Almost any idea, well executed could succeed on some level.
That said, sometimes 'execution' is not what we think it may be. I always remembered OkCupid as having great UI an design. PlentyOfFish had bizarre, ugly, unwieldy, sometimes not working UI. POF I believe sold for a lot more, and the founder basically bootstrapped and practically owned the entire thing. In the later case 'just getting the photos up with a profile' seemed to be the key magic point. Bumble ... the novelty of 'women chose' and pushing really, really hard on the 'female founder' PR opportunity to the tune of monthly exposure on CNN and major outlets.
Sometimes I wonder if Liz Holmes were to have had better talent, if she could have pivoted that finger-prick BS into something actually applicable. It always felt like 'fraud on the edge of something actually useful' but never crossed the line.
The hardest part in running a business is finding customers. Going by that logic, the hardest part in game design (and entertainment in general) is finding an audience. The biggest risk is that you end up making a perfect game with the best ideas possible that only you want to play. You can also do the opposite. Design a game trying to appeal to everyone and thereby having no audience whatsoever. Although liked by many, it's quality will be poor.
I will try to find the quote.
EDIT: found it in “Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0”, great book btw. Highly recommended
> Where does this leave us with respect to a market pioneer strategy versus a market follower strategy? It’s clear that there are advantages to being a market leader. You can lock up customers. You can build early market share and gain a dominant trade name. You can get down the learning curve. You can sometimes gain patent protection. You can benefit from high margins, and use the resulting cash flow to fund further product development and marketing.
But—and this is key—taking a market pioneer strategy is not, in itself, enough. Being first will not protect you forever; you also have to execute well.
Of course, the ideal position—and the one pursued by many great companies—is to strive for being both first and best.
The sales guy said : yeah, but I don't know where the market is, how big it is or how much I can charge.
Disclaimer : these are my words.
One, first mover advantages rarely determine winners. Google followed altavista. FB followed Myspace. iphone followed N95s, palm pilot, blackberry, etc. Those earlier versions also had precedents, and for each precedent there are hundreds of attempts at creating commercial products.
Second, timescales. The above examples are years and decades. The typical founder pushing NDAs on everyone and their cat is thinking in months. There are almost no cases where someone is going to entrench themselves in an industry or create network effect in months. If they do, it's probably down to great execution anyway.
It's not that first mover advantage doesn't exist, it's just a smaller factor relative to execution. Competition generally, is unlikely to be a major factor. Also "major" and "minor" are a different sort of beast for a startup. Statistically, a startup has a very low chance of success. Say the chance of success is 5%. You can think of that as 50% chance of not being executed at all. 30% chance of being executed poorly. 10% chance of failing to appeal to customers/users. 2% chance of dying because of founder disputes. 1% chance of being a stupid idea. 0.5% chance of being killed by competition. etc.
In any case, we are engaging with the idea right now. This article didn't "engage" in the sense that it doesn't mention it, but you can't expect every article to mention it. I also don't think it's very important, as a consideration.
Engage seems euphemistic to me. What do you mean by it.. that people should rank it more highly as a factor? If so, why not make that case?
This implies you are moving. If your idea is still on idea stage, you are not being first mover. You are a dreamer.
Most of the time First Mover Advantage becomes obvious only after the fact. So I would not loose too much sleep over it.
I wish more people understood this! 2/3 of the time someone asks me to hear their idea they want me to sign an NDA first.
As though I have time to build a dating app that matches people based on their favorite color!
But seriously, I think people would be surprised how much two ideas can diverge based on execution and in most circumstances sharing your idea is very low risk.
IMHO. You can have a amazing idea and terrible execution and be fine. But if you have a bad idea and amazing execution you are screwed. Stealing ideas is therefore a real thing. But great ideas are so rare - people assume they don't exist - therefore, it is assumed an execution issue.
Many people who are actually working in the filmmaking business will absolutely refuse to even glance at a screenplay that doesn't come to them from an agent or a producer or someone else they know who is actually working in the filmmaking business. The primary reason is that they may already be working on a project like the one in the screenplay being offered to them. If they read the offered screenplay they may be opening themselves to some really annoying legal hassles. So they just tell the would be screenwriter to take their screenplay to an agent.
I wondered whether the same kinds of legal hassles happen in the games industry. Does someone come up with an idea, offer it to a game company or a game developer, and then call a lawyer if they get told the idea is already in development?
No, something that exists and consumes space/resources/mindshare basically has negative value until proven otherwise. It has all sorts of misguided hangups and ideas attached to it which might make it a worse starting point than a clean slate.
Otherwise, it's true that almost all ideas are worthless.
To me ideas from science-fiction seem obvious and often inevitable to be implemented. I have "invented" the concept of "iPads" in my early childhood long before I've seen them in the Space Odyssey and Star Trek. Not for an instant this makes me feel genius, this was just an obvious concept like the wheel was - it was doomed to be "invented" and needed no actual inspiration. This is more of a game of who patents an obvious idea faster and starts selling the best implementation of it first.
My example for a long time was that Netflix for video games is a great idea. At some point we will be able to "rent" or "use" games for a low monthly few instead of buying video games. It's happened with most other media and the large hurdle is figuring out copyright and logistics. But someone will come along with that knowledge and make it happen eventually.
We're about 4 years from that conversation with my team and I believe Netflix announced they are going to get into the videogame space recently.
That fact aside, some ideas are indeed worth more than others, just like some checks are worth more than others when cashed (aka executed). It all depends on what type of experience they are coming from. Most ideas are not worth much because they are coming from a place with little to no applicable experience, they are generated by someone looking at a problem domain from the outside rather than being an insider
Many people sit on great ideas waiting for the right time & conditions (speaking from experience); if you think your idea is worth something, go out there and do something about it yourself, do anything, it is truly the effort that counts.
It feels particularly exploitative how "idea guys" will come to developers and designers and expect them to toil away for peanuts (or _maybe_ equity), it happens very often and you know 99% of the time it's not gonna go anywhere.
The most common denominators are they have nothing more than a concept in their head (nothing on paper, no artistic renderings), want you to invest your time making their dream product, promise you'll both get very rich, have no skills to help make it and express no desire to work on learning them, and they'll be the corporate CEO.