Note to entrepreneurs: Your idea is not special

June 14, 2011

— Brad Feld is a managing director at the Boulder, Colorado-based venture capital firm Foundry Group. He also co-founded TechStars and writes the popular blog, Feld Thoughts. The views expressed are his own. —

Every day I get numerous emails from software and Internet entrepreneurs describing their newest ideas.

Often these entrepreneurs think their idea is brand new – that no one has ever thought of it before. Other times they ask me to sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect their idea. Occasionally the emails mysteriously allude to the idea without really saying what it is.

These entrepreneurs think their idea is special and magic. And they are wrong.

The great entrepreneurs are already focused on the implementation of their idea. They send me links to their website or software. They describe the business they are in the process of creating (or have already created). They point me to what they’ve done to implement their idea and show real users who validate that the idea is important. And they quickly move past the idea to the execution of the idea.

Google? Not the first search engine. Facebook? Not the first social network. Groupon? Not the first deal site. Pandora? Not the first music site. The list goes on. Even when you go back in time to the origins of the software industry: MS-DOS – not the first operating system. Lotus 1-2-3 – not the first spreadsheet.

The products and their subsequent companies became great because of execution. First, they had to execute on building a great product. Next, they had to execute on building a great business. Finally, they had to execute on scaling, sustaining, and evolving a great business.

Rinse and repeat, over and over again.

It’s awesome when an entrepreneur is obsessed with his idea. Every great product that I’m aware of came from an obsession of an idea and every great company followed. But for every entrepreneur that shifted the obsession with the idea into an obsession with the execution of the idea, I know many more entrepreneurs who got stuck on the idea, but never focused on building something from it.

Sure, they tried, but they didn’t obsess about it, pour all their energy into it, and most importantly get as many great people as they could on the journey with them.

As a venture capitalist, I’m constantly looking for great entrepreneurs who have amazing ideas. But I don’t value the ideas. I value the entrepreneurs’ execution of the ideas.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

As Steve Jobs once told me, ideas are the booby prize!

Posted by AdamHertz | Report as abusive

Summed up perfectly here: “quickly move past the idea to the execution of the idea”
Great post!

Posted by chrisrosenquest | Report as abusive

Completely agree, I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard people pitching me about the next Facebook, the next Google and so on. Time passed and they are still pitching.
Let’s face it, ideas are easy, action is hard, and in my opinion, an entrepreneur is not someone who has a fantastic idea, but someone who has the ability to make ideas come true, regardless if they are great or not.

Posted by Pedrosttau | Report as abusive

Enjoyed the Article, thank you for posting!

Posted by RealtyGo | Report as abusive

So true. Anyone who asks you to sign an NDA to see their idea is someone not to get involved with.

Posted by Craigvn | Report as abusive

Excellent article. Even YOUR idea is not ENTIRELY new.
Although not specific to Venture Capitol and I.P., the following are germane generalized quotes (my opinion) = “Actions speak louder than words”.
or “Action Talks, B.S. walks”,”There is nothing new under the sun”.
As for N.D.A.s, NDA is a GOOD thing, because it isolates, insulates and clearly defines the stream of transfer of I.P., however, ideas are a dime a dozen. Prototypes are invaluable.
Thank you for your excellent article.

Posted by themeteor | Report as abusive

And the winner is : ‘themeteor’ with ”There is nothing new under the sun”. :)

Posted by w.Commented.TV | Report as abusive

Interesting to see that Facebook ended up buying the first social network idea (i.e. the Friendster patent portfolio). Why did they do that? Presumably because they fear execution isn’t the only ingredient.

Posted by nicfulton | Report as abusive

[…] reading here: Note to entrepreneurs: Your idea is not special | Entrepreneurial This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged also-co-founded, and-writes, are-his, boulder, […]

Posted by Note to entrepreneurs: Your idea is not special | Entrepreneurial | | The Money BooksThe Money Books | Report as abusive

[…] Every day, venture capitalist Brad Feld receives pitches from entrepreneurs who think their idea is unique. “And they are wrong,” he says, noting that Google was not the first search engine and Facebook was not the first social network. What matters most, he says, is “the entrepreneurs’ execution of the ideas.”  Full Article  […]

Posted by Debt talks set July 1 deadline for deal – Top news – Financial news | Report as abusive

I have to second themeteor on the NDA.

A competitor can mire you in legal attacks that break your bank and NDA, clear data path tracking and intent, agreement of ownership, is essential.

As to the idea being a dime a dozen, this may be true in general, but even a great idea will come to nothing without the work. And so patent laws give limited time to file after public disclosure. Always protect your IP. That is part of the work that makes your business valuable.

Great article. So inspiring to hear again that the work sets us apart. Thanks!

Posted by Zippitee | Report as abusive

I don’t blame any of those entrepreneurs for having anxiety – a lot of information is copied and duplicated and there are very few resources or methods to help emerging entrepreneurs protect those ideas. It’s easy to criticize when you’re on the other side, but for the person who has sacrificed months or years, maybe working out of a garage, the idea means everything and embodies much more than someone reading an email will understand. The article was okay.

Posted by BrilliantF | Report as abusive

[…] The value of seeds comes with the sower, the soil, and the social interaction around the whole sowing process which helps you find the best sowers/gardeners, and helps you to decide who should get the soil (not just what). The flip side is to have a pile of seed with people saying ‘someone should come and plant this, it’s great seed’.  Have a look at the article from Brad Feld (  /2011/06/14/note-to-entrepreneurs-your- idea-is-not-special/) […]

Posted by Mark’s Corner | Report as abusive

A finely-balanced piece, but if I might draw an analogy with the music business (which, like millions of others, I have dabbled in!), the fact is that committed songwriters will eventually get their ideas executed in some way, but if they have any sense, will also be sure to protect their copyright somehow. In short, I think that your article rings very true, but the minor criticisms that many have of your slight disparagement of NDAs ring equally true. Thanks all the same.

Posted by Onyidzin | Report as abusive

WRONG! If ideas are not special then why are you in the VC business and why is there even a VC field? What are guys good for?

If inventors knew how to execute their ideas in the market, why would they even come to you? They would go get a loan at 5% or a second mortgage, not give you 30% plus.

If I invented the backward robe (snuggie) yeah, ok, I agree, the idea is not special but the execution is good. But that’s not an invention, that’s just marketing.

It sounds like you do not see the idea but need somebody to sell you the idea. That’s good for TV, but bad for business.

Posted by theox | Report as abusive

Great article, and not only for tech entrepreneurs. As a service provider who works with entrepreneurs, we tell people who think they have the next best invention or idea worth millions that no matter what, they need to be able to describe their idea and what it does. I also love it when they say they have absolutely no competition or their market is every household. Thanks Brad, for stating it plain and simple!

Posted by TammyE | Report as abusive

[…] The unimportance of “the idea” when compared with execution has become a relatively common theme in strategic business thinking. In 2005, Derek Sivers wrote a short post explaining that ideas are just a multiplier of execution. In a similar vein, Rob Adams of Inc magazine wrote an article titled, “Ideas Are a Commodity; It’s Execution Intelligence That Matters”. [Brad Feld has recently made a variation on this theme in his article Note to Entrepreneurs: Your idea isn't special.] […]

Posted by Why we probably won’t sign your NDA | Atomic Spin | Report as abusive

[…] and execution is everything and his Tweeps erupted with praise. Reuters picked it up and he did a quick post for them where Brad says, “Google? Not the first search engine. Facebook? Not the first social […]

Posted by On the Execution is Better Than Ideas Meme – Because Sometimes 140 Character Isn't Enough | Report as abusive

[…] Every day, venture capitalist Brad Feld receives pitches from entrepreneurs who think their idea is unique. “And they are wrong,” he says, noting that Google was not the first search engine and Facebook was not the first social network. What matters most, he says, is “the entrepreneurs’ execution of the ideas.”  Full Article  […]

Posted by Oracle seeks up to $6.1 billion in Google lawsuit – Top news – Financial news | Report as abusive

This article is not great. It only serves to dissuade people to follow their ideas and turn them into the next big thing.
Even if an idea isn’t unique, it DOES NOT mean it isn’t special.
Even if Google wasn’t the first search engine, so what?
They took it beyond the search engine and created a huge company with it, and now work in tons of different areas.
Sure, Microsoft didn’t make the first operating system, but does that mean it wasn’t special? They’re working on Windows 8, and previous Windows versions are almost a business standard.

It’s not if the idea is new or unique that makes it special, its what you do with it. Even if its a Facebook copycat/knock-off, it can still be the next big thing.

Your point is one-sided, stating that everything has to be unique to be special.

Are you saying parents are wrong in saying their children are special?
After all, there are a few billion children in the world, not so unique, right?

And yet, they still are indeed special. Not because they’re unique, not because they’re better than anyone else, its because parents make them special.

Not every idea is unique, your own blog post has been repeated over and over, and has been said before, does that mean it’s not special?

Stating that people’s ideas aren’t special only dissuades those people from actually making their idea a reality.

Even then, something doesn’t have to be successful to be special, a kid that makes his own teddy-bear, regardless of how terrible it may look, will tell you that teddy-bear has a place in his heart, because he took his idea and did something with it.

Posted by en.cryption | Report as abusive

What a Lazy Ass. Now that the market for ideas is becoming saturated we can see, as other people have termed, ‘vulture’ capitalists hiding in between real venture capitalists.

In fact, the writer sounds worse than a bank. I think that people with ideas are better off going to the bank, getting a loan and then go the a local university to get some expertise. Then I would suggest that they employ the press and also create an online presence to attract the investors.

Seriously, if you have a great idea and have the all the expertise required to execute it then you don’t need venture capitalists, especially these vultures looking only for a quick buck.

Also, if the only thing these people have is an idea I don’t see how you can called them entrepreneurs. It goes against the definition of entrepreneurship. Instead you should call them inventors or something like that.

Please don’t degrade that word.
Instead say ‘aspiring’ entrepreneurs.

Gosh and your website ‘techstars’ reminds of universities and school worldwide. Especially the supposedly top schools that attract the top students. It’s obvious that you are trying to create a system in which you are trying to attract the best ideas that would have probably become succesful anyway and then trying to get credit for your system, hence validating the need for your system. I could say the same for tens of universities that claim to be the best and attract the best students but… at the end of the day it is the students that make the university great, and as the saying goes ‘birds of a feather flock together’.

However, not to completely bash you up I have to say that the qualities that you have defined for an entrepreneur are valid and true.

Just don’t expect to hide behind a few words of truth to masquerade your intentions, the world isn’t as naive as you think.

Posted by Paradoxix | Report as abusive

A clear lesson on why not to go near a “venture capitalist” if you have a unique notion or idea. They will help themselves to the idea and give you little for it.

Supposedly, that is because it is worth next to nothing. But these people achieve nothing at all without that “worthless” insight. If you cannot bring it to life yourself, let it die a private death. You should respect your insights even if bankers do not.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

What’s said in this article describes 100% of what I am going through. I am in the phase of being obsessed about the execution of my idea, so I am glad to know that I am doing what I am doing the right way.

This has been very helpful, thanks.

Posted by Neo7th | Report as abusive

I appreciated this article. I know my point of view could be inspired by the ongoing situation in Italy, where after 3 years of VC promotion we experience a full blossoming of “your idea could be worth 1M Euros”. Most young Iitalian aspiring entrepreneurs are able to put online a Web 2.0 website, find a decent marketing manager and send him to as many as possible “YOU got talent” exhibitions, and that’s it.
But there is the need to say to most people that executing ideas is today more difficult than it was 20 years ago in Silicon Valley.

Posted by LeoSorge | Report as abusive

most of these people who are putting comments against this article never started a company nor had an innovative idea. Most of these people are dreamers without any results… they shamelessly say WRONG also… it is not wrong… execution is everything… because any idea you have will evolve with the market forces and your strategic decisions… so this article is a very realistic article to the bones… read the story behind friendster and come back here annd talk about what kind of a great dreamers you are… dream on boys… you are the pessimistic souls of every social gathering with your constant crying about “I thought about that before”… funny…

Posted by Ocala123456789 | Report as abusive

sounds like a investor trying to educated a investor.

Idea is your foundation, is your passion. And execution is most important part of building your idea. Facebook/apple/google are the first kind what they do best, reach the mass. So that is innovated in the idea and different other way other entrepreneur would have done this.

@ocala123456789 you should know better to read this sucky webblog and condemn entrepreneurs…

Posted by saidismeenk | Report as abusive

What is the definition of “Execution”? Steve Jobs didn’t build (“Execute”?) the first Apple computer, Steve Wozniak did. Woz had created an initial prototype that his employer, Hewlett Packard, did not want or see the value in. But Steve Jobs had vision and “ideas.” Was his execution getting Woz to build it while he handled the other parts of the business? Similarly, Paul Allen was the most instrumental in the actual creation (programming and porting) of MS Software and porting the operating system that they had purchased. Was Bill Gates not executing?

Posted by Reality24 | Report as abusive

[…] the day I started writing this post on the commonness of ideas, I stumbled upon this article… on the commonness of ideas.  It just goes to proves the point.  That is, while […]

Posted by Stealing Fiction « Cheap Ass Fiction | Report as abusive

[…] Note to entrepreneurs: your idea is not special by Brad Feld […]

Posted by You have a billion dollar idea? I don’t care. « Rowing My Boat | Report as abusive

[…] I will not dwell on it, especially since Brad Feld of the Foundry Group puts is so well in this article. Read it and digest the meaning of it over the weekend to see if you can attack your […]

Posted by Ideas are nothing – action is everything part II « Entrepreneurship Task Force Luxembourg | Report as abusive

What do you mean by execution? Building something decent is one thing. Getting your name out is another story. It’s the survival of the loudest. Facebook’s interface is clumsy and convoluted but we are all on it because they had tons of cash to drag us onto their website. Groupon despite their claims of the opposite, is destroying small business. But they had tons of cash to bamboozle small business owners that this is the way things are done these days. Basically, you can pick any startup and make it another success story if you pour as much money in it as has been poured into Groupon or Twitter that are still in the red.

Posted by photohand-team | Report as abusive

[…] Note to entrepreneurs: your idea is not special (source) […]

Posted by Links of the Day « Woodward Partners Investment Bankers | Report as abusive

[…] Note to entrepreneurs: Your idea is not special | Entrepreneurial […]

Posted by Web Links « AMPT Blog | Report as abusive

[…] or “segment” first mover. In an article I wrote recently for Reuters titled Note to entrepreneurs: Your idea is not special I made the point that “the products and their subsequent companies became great because of […]

Posted by Be The First Mover | Report as abusive

[…] Rock star VC Brad Feld, Managing Director of the Foundry Group, author of the book Do More Faster, co-founder of TechStars, and author of popular blog Feld Thoughts: 2011/06/14/note-to-entrepreneurs-your-id ea-is-not-special […]

Posted by Startup Ideas & Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)Chris Benson's Juxtaposition | Chris Benson's Juxtaposition | Report as abusive

[…] insights on execution and team value in Brad Feld’s post, more on the team and leadership attitudes in Mark Suster’s article […]

Posted by Innovation Lab's Blog » Entrepreneurial Resource Kit#3 – Team | Report as abusive

Sorry man.

“to sign a non-disclosure agreement” is a pre requisite to be able to register a IP patent… if you disclose your ideas to the very first guy on the road (like you).

Hence my vote 0/10


Posted by paperab | Report as abusive

I agree. with execution be paramount.
The ideas that I have had, and continue to have, jump into my mind have been counted into hundreds of usable ideas many worth billion or trillion dollar valuations – if launched with capable people. However, my execution and business skills suck, so the valuation is zero. The real question is how to integrate ideas guys and execution guys?

Posted by Ideaincubator | Report as abusive

There is a story about a guy who had an idea for Coca Cola. So he gets everything squared away with legal to present his idea, and then he does. Bottle it.

So how does this article apply to a situation like that?

There are countless ways companies can be improved and both insiders and those who use the company services may be able to see very profitable ways to improve operations but there may not be any way for them to be compensated for it and therefore little to no incentive for them to share their ideas.

How would this writer address those circumstances?

The idea is hardly good enough that you could start your own company and compete with a well established one using your idea because for one thing it isn’t patentable and they could steal it on day one, i.e. bottling.

So the question is: Is there any way to monetize your idea with a company?

I have several ideas that would serve Facebook or Google very well including in areas of marketing and their interface. None of these ideas are patentable, and each could steal it from the other. They are in fact quite obvious to me, but they haven’t done it yet so maybe it’s not obvious to everyone.

Is there are way to present my ideas to a company and get paid? On the flip side to protect the company, how would they set up a legal framework to protect themselves from being presented an idea they already have on the drawing board, have thought about and discarded, or could hear but not be impressed by it and choose not to implement it while still being on the hook to legally compensate the idea provider if they do successfully implement an idea they had not though of yet?

If that framework doesn’t exist, the development of it would be profitable in itself.

Posted by lippy | Report as abusive

I have to disagree with you on that becuase the most imporant thing needed in a great entrepreneur is pasion. Pasion for their idea and knowing it will change the world. You could be great at giving pitches but if you don’t belive then there’s no point having the idea.

Posted by Matt5 | Report as abusive