I was chatting with a friend about business ideas and the different “types” of businesses we embark on. I think it’s generally accepted that entrepreneurs are a certain type of people – short term pain, long term gain. Take the leap. Have vision, will code, etc.
But just as some artists are driven to create certain types of art, entrepreneurs are drawn to certain types of businesses. I split it in two types (although there are, i’m sure, more): businesses that primarily require solid execution, and businesses that primarily require creative vision.
Every business requires solid execution, and every business needs a vision. But some of them, when you consider what you’d need to do to be successful, are often weighted in a direction.
Perfect example – Groupon clones. Take, for example, Living Social. Or one of my mothercountry’s Groupon clones, like Scoopon or (the recently acquired) Spreets. These businesses didn’t require a strong creative vision. They’re all about execution. Do what Groupon is doing better. Or do it more local.
The entrepreneur needs to be to be a strong executor, a chess master playing 6, 8, 16 moves ahead. Someone else has chosen the battlefield; now you go forth and beat them.
Many very successful businesses have been execution heavy businesses. It’s been said that being first to market isn’t as important as we once thought. I think Facebook is an execution business. Same idea as Friendster and Myspace, different execution. That’s not to say Zuckerberg didn’t have a vision, but he didn’t break the mold with something revolutionary; it was a social network for colleges. But therein, he found the winning formula.
Google, same thing. Better tech, better execution. But it’s a search engine in 1998; not a new concept. They built a better monkey wrench, and won.
Perfect examples are Dodgeball/Foursquare and Twitter. These businesses did something rather new, created something people didn’t know they wanted but then discovered they loved. They’re driven by a person’s vision or an idea. They had to build something to see if people liked it.
It’s been pretty well publicized that twitter has made some missteps (as do many young companies), but they can afford to make more missteps than a Groupon clone can. Twitter not a commodity product; they got to market first and defined a new “thing”. They’ve messed up a couple of times but they’re still winning.
Which type to pursue?
So, I’m sitting with an entrepreneur and they’re considering tackling a new business. They’ve got a few ideas, but guess what – the top two fall into opposing categories – execution vs creative vision.
I think it comes down to two things.
- Which are you more suited to?
- What’s your ultimate aim?
My gut feeling is that businesses in the execution category are probably more likely to succeed. By the definition I laid out above, we’re talking about concepts and markets that are already somewhat proven – you know there’s a market there already. You’re improving on it in some way, sure, but the idea has been shown to work to some extent. Go on, build a better mousetrap. We know the world needs mousetraps, you win if you can execute.
Creative businesses are a hit-based affair; like a musician, authors or artists, you’re trying to put out a hit. Millions of users, “the people will love you”, all that jazz. Twitter could have flopped. In fact, people predicted it would – who cares if your cat rolled over? What thoughts of value could you possibly say in 140 characters? But it worked.
Same with Foursquare. So, you want me to play a game where I have to ignore my friends for a minute when i’m at a bar while i check into some stupid app to earn points that don’t even get me anything? Sure thing. But there was something there. 6 million users of “something there”. Boom, it’s a hit.
So, coming back to my two things, it’s time for some broad-brush-maybe-half-false generalisations:
- If you’re a chess player, a strategist, a get things done guy – you’re probably an executor.
- If you fancy yourself an artist, a visionary, you’re probably a creative business type of person.
- If you’re in it for the money, you’re a execution business type of guy.
- If you’re in it for the fame, you’re a creative business type of gal.
The real killers are the strategic artists. Mathematician musician chess masters. Watch out for them. They’ll get the cake, win the championship and steal your spouse. Hide your kids, hide your wife kind of stuff. They’re the Steve Jobs of tomorrow: rare, powerful, and about to own half of your city.
The exciting thing is, the (multiple) friends that I’ve had this conversation with – are “strategic artist” type of people. And hotdiggitydamn(!) it’s going to be exciting to see what they’re going to come out with this year.