Friday, May 4, 2007

Ideas are Worthless? Wrong! Ideas can solve problems

Some Venture Capitalists (VCs) and investors are keen to promote the idea that Ideas are Worthless. (for example, see Graham or Kawasaki)

Officially, this is so that they (investors in general) do not have to sign Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA) because they see many ideas and don't want to have their hands tied.

It is true also that many of the ideas they do see are indeed worthless, and an unobvious twist to a worthless idea can make it valuable. So we dont want the originator of the worthless idea to profit from the valuable twist.

Sometimes though, I also wonder if it is because they do not want to be held liable for any leaks, unintentional or deliberate.

For instance, if they have funded a startup which is working on the same problem, or in an overlapping area, then the temptation to 'help' their own venture by divulging the secrets of the outsider, is probably overwhelming.

By definition, you can only 'steal' something if it has worth and does not belong to you.

An idea is a seed; many ideas have to be discovered and implemented along the way for it to grow up. The initial fertilisation is essential, but differentiation into organs, the "other ideas along the way" must come along.

I know how true this was for juwo. In May 2005 when I decided to implement a prototype fulltime, I fully expected the initial seed - "skip to the important parts of an audio lecture" - to be done within one month. So I told my wife, "two months!" to manage expectations, and went to work.

It took me a full 10-12 months of fulltime work (60 hour weeks at a minimum) and 3 iterations to implement juwo. Perhaps I am really slow, or as I hold true, a saying I since developed - The Invention is in the Prototyping. In other words, no one could have seen the full concept of juwo at the outset. The journey had to be undertaken.

Well, what if I had implemented only the original scope (to meet my deadline)? Answer: the concept would have been stillborn. It would have remained an embryo.

But suppose, a team is trying to solve the same problems as juwo has solved. How long would it take them now? I am reluctant to write this. All they have to do is to play with juwo and figure out the key concepts. Which is why, I was fearful to release it for another year; until I found that no one will likely bother with it until it is successful.

Another example.

We replaced our dishwasher recently. The earlier model was only 4 years old and was put in by the builder of the house. However it did not wash dishes clean. This is because there was one rotating arm and one spindle that sprayed water on dishes that were placed in two racks. So dishes in the top rack often had sediment on them because dishes in the lower rack often blocked the spray. In other words the dishwasher would wash only dishes that were already cleaned by hand, and if there were only a few dishes loaded - and even then, took 1.5 hours to do it.

So this was a real problem for any dishwasher manufacturer.
When we shopped recently, I observed that all the models we saw, had done away with the spindle, and introduced 3 rotating arms - that would sandwich the 2 racks. This enables all 4 surfaces to be covered.

A simple solution in hindsight. But apparently, many models of dishwashers were manufactured, probably billions of dollars spent until someone had a bright idea to solve the problem. And then what happened? Apparently all the manufacturers copied or stole the solution. To avoid patent lawsuits, they all likely came up with variations on the same theme.

Conclusion: An idea can make all the difference.

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