Is the idea-less startup the ideal?

December 03, 2012

What’s the most important ingredient in a successful startup? The idea or the people involved?

Getting the team together before having the idea for a start-up would seem to stand conventional business wisdom on its head. Have the idea, test market it to make sure it’s any good, then get startup capital to make that idea a reality, most would argue. But, many startup ideas morph during their life cycle and every business plan should be flexible enough to adapt with changing market conditions or purse an unmissable opportunity that arises. Having a group of smart people who work well together could be the X factor for success. Tech startup incubator Y Combinator seems to think so, as it announced earlier this year it would be taking applications for funding from groups without an idea.

Why did they launch this innovative experiment? Because it realized that it was effectively already doing it. It had accepted startups that completely changed their big ideas along the way and some of them became massive hits. Reddit, the hugely popular link-sharing website, was originally going to be a way to order food on your cellphone; Scribd, the self-publishing website, was originally conceived as a car-sharing service. A successful small business starts with a team of talented, dynamic people with complementary skills. Just as nearly everyone potentially has a good idea for a book in them, as the old saying goes, Y Combinator believes that almost every smart person has a good business idea in them. “A good startup idea is simply a significant, fixable unmet need, and most smart people are at least unconsciously aware of several of those. They just don't know it,” it says. “And we now have lots of practice helping founders see the startup ideas they already have.” Plenty of groups of workers or friends sit over a coffee or a beer and talk about how they wish they could do something together if only they had a good idea. Well now they have the chance. If the only thing holding you back from launching a startup is not having an idea for one, now nothing is holding you back. “If you're a group of people who are really good at what you do, and have known each other for a while and work well together, we'll take the risk if you will,” says Y Combinator. What do you think comes first: the right idea or the right people? Tell us about your startup stories. Did your big idea change along the way? Or did you see the gap in the market before you came up with the idea to fill it? We want to hear from you.