By Marion Debruyne, dean of Vlerick Business School.
During my time at Vlerick Business School I’ve been very fortunate to work with more alumni than I can count, and it has to be said that my experiences have revealed a clear pattern, and potential problem. This problem exists specifically in the mind-set of budding entrepreneurs, who regularly send emails asking for my opinion on their idea for a new start-up. While I can only applaud entrepreneurship, it is also a request that makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable every time, because the request confirms a huge misunderstanding about what fuels successful entrepreneurial ventures.
The belief that a good idea is the most valuable element of the start-up process is one of the biggest mistakes made by aspiring entrepreneurs. Having a good idea is not the holy grail of entrepreneurship.
I am always happy to facilitate these conversations where possible, but a key piece of advice I’m likely to share is that you will find greater success if you take the time to focus on the execution of your idea and develop your company’s ability to adapt. There are a few fundamental things every aspiring entrepreneur needs to consider in the process of setting up a business, particularly when it comes to devoting more attention to being flexible with your idea.
It’s not all about the pitch - focus on the execution
You are not the only person with your idea. But that doesn’t matter, because Google wasn’t the first search engine and Facebook was not the first social media platform. The fact that other start-ups are working on something similar is an indication that your idea has legs. The well-known one-minute summary of selling a business idea has encouraged entrepreneurs to believe a good idea is the gold dust that will drive their vision forward.
When salesforce.com, currently the global number one in CRM software, started out their biggest competitor was a company called sales.com. With the exact same business model. The latter failed ingloriously, while the former became a raging success story because of their ability to successfully execute an idea and adjust flexibly. Companies will see greater results in focusing on execution, and having a willingness to adjust to consumer’s needs as they go.
Never expect the process to be straightforward
Can you think of one successful entrepreneurship story that has not involved the company having to change their tactics on their path to success? The launch of an original entrepreneurial idea is never smooth sailing, and this should be embraced. In the same way that it is best not to try to drive up a mountain by drawing a straight line from the bottom to the top, but that a better strategy is to gradually wind your way up along the road to reach the final destination. By deliberately planning to adapt your strategy, the idea will grow.
A great example is Netflix, which started out as a DVD mail-order company and over the years gained brand recognition and a loyal customer base in DVD rental by rethinking its business model. Subsequently these loyal customers have transferred to a fully online model. Today they have a large customer base and even make their own programmes. In its 18-year history, Netflix is on its fourth business model, give or take, and is a huge success.
The only opinion that really counts is the customers
The ability of entrepreneurs to renew their original ideas in the light of customer experience is an essential part of achieving success. Start-ups can determine how flexible they need to be according to customer feedback, which should be reviewed frequently.
DVDPost and Netflix had the same concept, but Netflix illustrated the ability to be flexible, renew themselves and adapt to the feedback from the market - which is a necessity for success. In the end, your potential customers pass the final judgement, which is why entrepreneurs should run their ideas by others, but don’t just discuss plan A, it’s just as important to know what plan B,C and even D might look like.