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Entrepreneur Diaries: Idea or execution?

By Kunal Kapoor, founder of The Luxury Closet.

October 13, 2013 11:38 by

‘I have an idea! Let’s launch an online service that rents trained monkeys to anyone who needs help! Any task you want, our monkeys can do!’

That’s probably not a viable idea; although both online services and monkeys have come a long way – recently, paintings by chimpanzees outsold Warhol and Renoir at an art auction in London.

My point, however, is not based on evolution, but one that relates to the entrenched culture of entrepreneurship that pits an idea against execution and, at times, seems to favour ideation over implementation.

Whether your idea is about renting trained monkeys or building a platform for the work force of our (human) kind, the issues at hand are essentially the same:  How does an idea take shape? What makes one idea more successful than the other? Because, for every successful idea that we hear about, there are hundreds of others that never work out. So how much merit does an idea have?

We all have ideas, sometimes they’re about things we want to do differently, other times they’re about new things altogether, but only a few of us seem to know and do what it takes to see those ideas become viable and thriving businesses.

I have always been interested in understanding the underlining principles that guide a successful idea – people, the mix of creativity, opportunity and drive.

While I was studying at INSEAD on a course on product development, the task my colleagues and I were given was to think of a unique product that would solve an existing problem. One of my colleagues wanted to make body wipes, so he didn’t have to bathe; another wanted to design a new diving watch. The wipes already exist in the marketplace and the diving watch posed complications about which we did not have enough product knowledge.

As for me, I had matchmaking on my mind. I found myself in a new city without any friends and not much of a social life, so I was thinking: How about creating a gadget that people would have access to in social places, which would allow them to select and signal someone they’d like to meet? Well, my idea was met with ridicule.

We ended up designing a new crutch for the temporarily disabled. We studied pain points of products in the market and spent a day pretending to be disabled, so we could test out the competition and identify a better solution. While it took one week to finalise the idea and product, the production of the prototype took more than two months and the result was not very encouraging. It looked clumsy and although it demonstrated a solution to the problem we identified, we never got to build a business out of it in the real world.

A few years later, while I was already working on setting up The Luxury Closet, I thought about my business school colleagues and our crutch project. I felt the urge to get in touch and see what they were up to. Not many had taken the plunge into the world of entrepreneurship and nobody was making any new crutches or diving watches either. I was a bit disappointed.

On the other hand, it took me four months to get up and running, another three months to get the first 50 customers and close to one year to gather 1,000. The Luxury Closet’s concept is a great business idea: It allows people to sell and buy pre-owned luxury items easily, conveniently and securely. However, I did not invent it. I reverse engineered it; adapting it carefully to what our clients wanted.

The business model worked successfully in markets, such as the US, and I chose to adapt it in the Middle East region. I built a prototype, got paying customers, raised financing, gathered an amazing team and we steadily increased our revenues every month since the initial launch. Our aim is to be a global player in the field and we’re getting there.

Then out of the blue I heard about a new nightclub in Paris, which was making waves for using a dating app that allowed clients to discreetly meet new people. The specifics were identical to the way I had envisaged it a few years ago. I was very intrigued to know who the founder was. I felt validated, but also a tad upset that I did not act upon the idea I had.

Kudos to the entrepreneurs who have the determination and drive to execute their ideas! If you have an idea that you are passionate about, because there’s a demand and a place for it – just do it. An idea that is not executed has no merit.

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