One of the concerns I hear voiced most frequently by prospective entrepreneurs – and it’s usually first-timers — is how they can engage potential funding sources, strategic partners and employees in conversations without divulging and “giving away” their extra-super-secret business concept.
Get over yourself. You’re just not that clever. Because there’s no such thing as an original business idea.
Let’s do the maths: There are 7 billion people on this earth. Let’s postulate that, say, even one-fiftieth of those people are somewhat “business smart.” (I’ll bet you the proportion’s a lot higher, but let’s go with that just to be conservative.) Then let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that one-tenth of those business-savvy folks have access to at least some money (either personally or through their employer).
Now: tell me with a straight face that someone among those 14 million people hasn’t already thought of your concept and pursued it a bit. Seriously.
But relax. Most great businesses aren’t built on original business ideas.
There. I said it.
The vast majority of great, new businesses are launched by entrepreneurs – or intrapreneurs in existing enterprises – who have a clever innovation on an existing concept. Or sometimes just better branding, customer service and overall execution applied to a tried-and-true concept. They’re the fast followers (or not-so-fast followers), not the first movers.
What the successful ones have in common is superb business execution – rarely patent-protectable business concepts.
Oracle wasn’t the first relational database. Facebook wasn’t the first social media site. Disney wasn’t the first amusement-park company. Nor, by any means, was iTunes the first source of MP3 music, nor Sam Adams the first craft beer, nor Foursquare the first location-based mobile couponing service, nor Prius the first fuel-efficient car.
Yet all ended up entering and dominating their respective markets through flawless business execution.
So what does this mean for us as entrepreneurs?
First of all, go ahead and pitch your idea! Don’t worry about somebody stealing it. Your business concept isn’t what’s going to differentiate you from your competitors. What’s going to spell success for you is your ability to build a high-performing team, set and meet goals, and build lasting customer relationships.
Secondly, if you Google your hot new business idea and get hits on a bunch of companies that are already pursuing similar concepts, don’t be bummed. Rather than thinking, “Shoot, my idea is already taken,” take the attitude, “Great… other smart people are pursuing this. That’s market validation!”
Jim Price is a serial entrepreneur and Adjunct Lecturer of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Zell Lurie Institute at The University of Michigan Ross School of Business. ©2012, James D. Price.
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