Is an idea that important?

“It’s total nonsense, I’m not really sure where it comes from, but every time I meet someone who says ‘I really want to be an entrepreneur’ but has no idea what they want to do, I really just think: ‘This person is totally aimless.’” - Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook and Asana.

This quote from a Wired panel talk inspired a debate on FastCompany’s website. The conversation focused on if you can truly “become” an entrepreneur if you don’t have an idea to back it up with.

Moskovitz’s words were strong, but were they accurate? Can anyone decide to be an entrepreneur before having an idea? The 'glamour' of being a tech startup entrepreneur, as portrayed by films like The Social Network is certainly enticing. However, editor Chris Dannen strongly disagreed with Moskovitz’s statement, claiming that the decision to be an entrepreneur was far from “aimless” and was instead a statement of intent “to work hard on something they are passionate about and make progress quickly.”

Unfortunately for Dannen, the rest of his staff agreed with Moskovitz that having a core idea was an important part of self-identifying as an entrepreneur, but Dannen makes us think: do some founders begin with a passion for entrepreneurship and then find an idea through that?

Passion for ideas is overrated

There is an argument that Venture Capitalists too often use an entrepreneur’s passion about their specific idea as a deciding factor for investment, when they should actually focus on their overall enthusiasm for their field.

Passion for one specific idea can be particularly dangerous if it blinds an entrepreneur to other, more lucrative, opportunities. Initial ideas aren’t, on average, the ones that lead to high growth.

A pivot is one such way to explore alternative ideas. This is a “structural course correction to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product” and most startups pivot at least once. In fact, research shows that startups which pivot once or twice raise 2.5 times more money and have 3.6 times more user growth than those who don’t.

Pivoting can have a big pay-off: dating site “Tune in, Hook Up”, pivoted to become YouTube; Tote, once an online shopping app, became Pinterest; and the original incarnation of Android was a platform for cameras, not mobile handsets.

The chicken and the egg

So which comes first: the idea or the passion?

Ideally, it’s best to have a combination of both. Entrepreneurs should have a general enthusiasm for their field, which can lead into a passion for a specific idea. They certainly should not launch a startup without an idea, but they should keep an open mind that it may be the second or third idea that really takes off.

Feel like you have both the idea and the passion? Have a look at what other characteristics every entrepreneur should have here.



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