There's the romantic notion of two complete nobodies, coming up with the next great idea and forging off to change the world. While that does happen, I believe that it's not the optimal path towards controllable business success.

There's a ton of brilliant 22 year old kids these days all churning through the same bucket of rather trivial ideas for web startups. Games! Group Messaging! Coupons! The reason why is that when you're 22 and just out of school, there's only a limited scope of ideas that it's actually practical for you to execute on. What I've found though, is that the most exciting startup ideas are mostly not in this pool but are, instead, backed by a hidden asset.

When I talk about assets, cash is the least interesting of all of these. Instead, I'm talking about more intangible assets like skills, reputation, relationships, attention & fame. I'm of the strong opinion that the most reliable path towards startup success is to focus relentlessly on acquiring interesting assets and then execute on the startups that naturally fall out of them.

Stack Overflow is the perfect example of this. The software that runs Stack Overflow is actually relatively trivial and really could have been built by anyone at anytime. What made Stack Overflow possible were two hidden assets:

  1. Without an initial community of high quality users, Stack Overflow would have died. Joel Spolsky & Jeff Atwood ran, at the time, two of the most popular programming blogs in the world and were able to generate sufficient interest and attention to get SO over the initial cold start hump
  2. Without great software design SO would not have been able to retain users at the rate they did. Joel Spolsky & Jeff Atwood had both been thinking very deeply about the structure and organization of social software for a very long time and avoided a number of obvious mistakes in the fundamental foundations of the software. Here's a blog post from Joel in 2003, thinking about these issues: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/ar… and the Stack Overflow podcasts are a secret mine of excellent social experience design insight: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/ca…

Neither Joel or Jeff had any grand, overarching vision of starting Stack Overflow when they started blogging for the first time. Instead, they just diligently worked to each build this amazing asset. But by building this asset, they opened up a thousand new, good startup ideas that were unavailable to most other people in the world and all they needed to do was to pick the one most appealing to them and execute on it.

I talk to a lot of different early stage startups these days and, inevitably, the ones I'm most excited about are those with a hidden asset backing them. Joe Edelman who built one of the most sophisticated reputation systems in the world at Couchsurfing is now deploying that asset towards Groundcrew. Gabe Smedresman who ran real world social games at Yale is now deploying that asset towards Gatsby. Yishan Wong who is one of the one of the world experts at startup engineering management is now deploying that asset towards Sunfire Offices. Sutha Kamal who is one of the most relentless business development minds I've seen at work is now deploying that asset towards Massive Health.

Inevitably, the story was that these entrepreneurs focused on acquiring assets and they reached a point where they couldn't not do a startup with them. It became like walking through a field of low hanging fruit and wondering which ones they should pick.

I think the conventional startup narrative is mistaken in that it casts the world into those who are temperamentally suited towards only doing startups and everyone else in the world who can be regarded as a brighter species of sheep. Instead, practically every one of the entrepreneurs in that list has spent significant time being an employee, quietly building up assets that would later become valuable. Many of them were even reluctant to become entrepreneurs.

What I take away from this is that I would like for a new startup narrative to emerge. One that focuses on the less sexy aspects of building a startup which is the 10 years before you write the first piece of code. I'd like for people to start thinking of startups as less something you decide to do and more an opportunity that gets handed to you. I'd like for people to focus first on making real contributions to the world before feeling like the world owes them a startup success. It's things like this that are the key towards shifting the ecosystem into a more mature startup culture and most optimally deploy the scarce human capital that we have.

Disregard ideas, acquire assets.

Post on Quora

  • http://www.truereligionflagship.com Wall Lu_key

    show the whole name

  • Pingback: 12,000 Minds « JoelBlog

  • Anonymous

    There are so nice ideas. I always visited your blog site. Because of here I found about the romantic idea. You really give the best idea. Thanks for sharing with us. 

  • Anonymous

    Mit dem Lenovo ThinkPad T430u bringt der Hersteller zudem ein Ultrabook für das Business-Segment auf den Markt medion ms2238 akku . Ausgestattet mit einer nicht näher bezeichneten Nvidia Grafikeinheit wird es das erste Ultrabook mit dedizierter Grafiklösung medion akoya e7212 akku darstellen und die Optimus Technologie bieten. Diese wechselt automatisch – je nach Systemauslastung – zwischen der diskreten und integrierten Grafik. Je nach samsung r468 akku Ausführung kommt eine schnelle SSD mit einer Speicherkapazität von bis zum einem Terabyte zum Einsatz. Das 14-Zoll Display besitzt eine matte fujitsu siemens ms2191 akku 6600mAh Beschichtung und wird mit einer Auflösung von 1.366 x 768 Bildpunkten arbeiten. Die angepeilte Akkulaufzeit liegt bei 6 Stunden. Lenovo verbaut in der Maximalausstattung samsung r505 akku einen Intel Core i7 Prozessor. Im dritten Quartal 2012 werden die Modelle ab in den Handel kommen. Auch bei diesem Gerät wurde noch keine Ankündigung für den deutschen Markt verbreitet.

    http://blog.austurlandid.is/weeii210/46963/msi+cr700+206ru+akku.html

  • http://www.webhostings.in/ web hosting companies

    If you consider above all the points means you get it clear idea about that topic.Excellent written skills.

  • jeasona1018

    Coach Outlet EATONVILLE, Fla. — Wearing hooded sweatshirts coach outlet store online similar to the one that Trayvon Martin wore on the night he was killed,Coach Outlet Online many preachers and worshippers echoed calls for justice Sunday in the shooting Coach Factory Outletdeath of an unarmed black teenager in Coach Outlet Stores Florida last month.Congregants bow their Coach Factory heads in prayer during a service at Middle Collegiate Church in New York, Sunday, March 25, 2012. Church-goers were invited to wear hoodies to services to show their support for justice in the case of Trayvon Martin, Coach Factory Outlet Online an unarmed black teenager who was wearing a hoodie on the night he was killed by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. Coach Outlet Store(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)Patrick Mulchay, center, joins other congregants in song during a service at Middle Collegiate Coach Factory Online Church in New York, Sunday, March 25, 2012.Coach Handbags Church-goers were invited to wear hoodies to services to show their support for justice in the case of Trayvon Martin, Coach Purses Outletan unarmed black teenager who was wearing a hoodie on the night he was killed by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. http://www.coach-store-online-outlet.com/
     

  • jeasona1018

    Coach Outlet EATONVILLE, Fla. — Wearing hooded sweatshirts coach outlet store online similar to the one that Trayvon Martin wore on the night he was killed,Coach Outlet Online many preachers and worshippers echoed calls for justice Sunday in the shooting Coach Factory Outletdeath of an unarmed black teenager in Coach Outlet Stores Florida last month.Congregants bow their Coach Factory heads in prayer during a service at Middle Collegiate Church in New York, Sunday, March 25, 2012. Church-goers were invited to wear hoodies to services to show their support for justice in the case of Trayvon Martin, Coach Factory Outlet Online an unarmed black teenager who was wearing a hoodie on the night he was killed by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. Coach Outlet Store(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)Patrick Mulchay, center, joins other congregants in song during a service at Middle Collegiate Coach Factory Online Church in New York, Sunday, March 25, 2012.Coach Handbags Church-goers were invited to wear hoodies to services to show their support for justice in the case of Trayvon Martin, Coach Purses Outletan unarmed black teenager who was wearing a hoodie on the night he was killed by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. http://www.coach-store-online-outlet.com/
     

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for giving me an amazing post, its great time to read your post. I’ve got some more interesting topic for discussion. So keep it updell 6400 battery

  • http://modelresponsibly.wordpress.com/ Andrew B Martin

    I completely agree with the idea that a successful start-up is rarely an overnight phenomenon. Instead of thinking of these asset bearing entrepreneurs as having their choice of low hanging fruit; I imagine it more that when a compelling idea came to them they had the tools to act on it. Acquiring assets prepared them to take advantage of ideas that others had probably stumbled upon before but were not well enough equipped to act on.

  • http://resume-online.com/ http://resume-online.com/

    Ideas today should be innovative and show their usefulness to people who will use them. 

  • Praveen Baratam

    To me this appears to be more of posterior rationalization than prospective advice. I believe its important to start discussing the goals and ideas right from the day you start working on them at conceptual level and build a community around it.

    Most of the times,  a startup is all about agility and serendipity. We can work for years on building relations but will we ever land in a situation to exploit what we built over the years? Will we be able to convert those assets into tangible results?

    Partnering with the right assets should be the more actionable goal along with building a community around the idea. 

    A startup has many phases and many roles and the men in charge wear many hats.

    For an entrepreneur being at the helm of affairs teaches a lot. Many entrepreneurs develop that instinct over many insipid attempts and ultimately succeed. Not every startup story is a phenomenon to recall.

    If you have an idea, discuss it, win over some people who will stand by you and jump into it, work on it and simultaneously work on building a community and acquiring assets.

  • Praveen Baratam

    To me this appears to be more of posterior rationalization than prospective advice. I believe its important to start discussing the goals and ideas right from the day you start working on them at conceptual level and build a community around it.

    Most of the times,  a startup is all about agility and serendipity. We can work for years on building relations but will we ever land in a situation to exploit what we built over the years? Will we be able to convert those assets into tangible results?

    Partnering with the right assets should be the more actionable goal along with building a community around the idea. 

    A startup has many phases and many roles and the men in charge wear many hats.

    For an entrepreneur being at the helm of affairs teaches a lot. Many entrepreneurs develop that instinct over many insipid attempts and ultimately succeed. Not every startup story is a phenomenon to recall. Pinterest……

    If you have an idea, discuss it, win over some people who will stand by you and jump into it, work on it and simultaneously work on building a community and acquiring assets.