When asked about the incredible success of Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi, founder and CEO Jun Lei said: “Even a pig can fly if it sits in the right spot during a whirlwind.”
Yesterday, on the way to the airport, my Lyft driver asked, upon hearing that I run an accelerator program, what makes the difference between a successful and a failed startup. My answer: The right idea at the right time in the right place — combined with a team which can execute. The rest is a bit of luck.
Let me elaborate: A good idea is the necessary starting point — but often an idea doesn’t find its market; as it’s too early, in the wrong place or simply doesn’t break through the noise level.
Take home delivery — in the mid-90s we had Kozmo.com (look it up if you don’t remember their rise and fall from stardom). They had a good idea, they did break through the noise level but they were way too early. Today we have Google Shopping Express, Amazon Fresh and many, many other services.
GrubHub, a now publicly listed company, is the exact same concept a couple of my friends executed against in the late 90s in Germany: Good idea, wrong time, wrong market plus they couldn’t sustain breaking through the noise level as they had to rely on expensive print and TV advertising. The list goes on and on (and here’s a tip — research failed businesses from the first dot-com boom and bust; I bet you money that there are a bunch of hidden gems in there which only wait for someone to try them again).
What is one to do with this information?
Be brutally honest with yourself when you evaluate your idea. Is there a market need? Are there enough potential customers? What does it take to break through the noise level? When you do your homework you don’t need for whirlwinds to fly.