An Idea is Not a Business

I get up and go to bed thinking about startups.

I have dozens and dozens of ideas that I keep writing down. They range from ambitious projects in personal computing to very silly web games. I wake up and imagine better interface for LinkedIn, a modern wine store, and a diet app that makes it easier to track calories.

Some of my ideas have already been done, some have not. Some of them people might pay for, most they won’t. Some of these ideas could be fundable, and could one day become big businesses.

But the thing is, my ideas are NOT businesses.

I often hear founders talk about ideas as if they are actual companies. Startup founders get quite upset: “A competitor stole my idea?! I actually thought of this first?!”

It does not really matter whose idea it was.

The ideas are a dime a dozen. You can’t patent an idea. You can’t protect an idea in today’s world. Any business idea, no matter how profound, is just a beautiful, but fragile construct in our heads.

If you ever took a math class, you know what a mathematical proof is. A proof is a sequence of steps that takes you from a set of assumptions to a conclusion. We know that Pythagorean theorem is true because there is a proof. We know that sum of all numbers from 1 to N is N*(N-1)/2 because there is an inductive proof. And you’ve probably heard that there is now a proof for Fermat’s last theorem too.

You can think of a successful startup as a proof that your idea is not only a good idea, but it has a right to exist and is actually a good business. A real business is a proof that your idea was great.

And the proof is this. You start with the idea, and then you add talented people, lines of code, meetings, financings, users, marketing, and years and years of hard work, and then, in a tiny fraction of cases you create a business. That resulting business is the the proof that your idea was great.

The actual business is never exactly the same as your original idea, instead, it is one possible path, one successful implementation. And the most important thing that you can realize as entrepreneur is that ideas can be stolen, but not the implementations.

No one can build your business in the same the way you can build it.

No one can execute it, in full breadth the way you can. Only you embody, and have it in you, the way it should be done. A great business is so much more than just an idea. It is a living, breathing entity, so much more beautiful and complex than the original idea.

And because I know this to be true, I liberally share my ideas with people. I see great benefit in openly talking about personal computing, getting feedback on my modern wine store idea, and thinking through the pixels of better LinkedIn app with my friends.

I do that, because I believe that this is the best way to turn some of these ideas into actual businesses.


  1. Great post. I love to see more open and sharing in the startup ecosystem.


  2. I couldn’t agree more. There is this pervasive thought, and at times a paralyzing fear, that by simply sharing an idea you open yourself up to having that idea stolen; and here in Boulder, college aged, to-be entrepreneurs are the most guilty of this crippling sentiment. Yet its those same college aged entrepreneurs that should be “pulling the student card,” and getting their idea out in front of as many people as possible. Perhaps that’s leaning to the opposite extreme, but the negative repercussions of not sharing an idea far outweigh the 1 in million chance of someone taking your concept and running with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tyrone Sturghill · ·

    After reading this…all I can do is go…hummm. A very interesting post.


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