Can an idea have value?

Mahen Ratnayake
3 min readAug 15, 2017

“The value of ideas” debate is one that’s been done to death in the startup world. There’s the “your-ideas-aren’t-worth-anything” camp who support the notion that ideas don’t inherently have any value. You’ll hear them say things like, “Ideas aren’t worth anything! I’ve had hundreds of ideas since I woke up today. Execution is what really matters!”.

Then there’s the “ideas camp” who believe that “Yes indeed! Ideas do have value!”.

I belong to the former camp.

But as a founder who’s raised a seed round based on “an idea”, and having been a part of many discussions on this topic. I’ve realized that there’s a third area that’s often ignored in this discussion when someone says “ideas don’t have value”.

It’s what I call, an idea for an execution. A form of an idea that can actually have some value.

What’s an Idea?

Many people consider “an idea” to be just a thought -

  • “An app that would match me with people around me”
  • “A service that lets me borrow a dog to run with”
  • “An app that lets me book a cab”

and they go something like that. If this is your definition of an idea, and you think these have some value. You’d be quite wrong. This is how you get hundreds of people claiming that they totally had the idea for Uber before Uber became a thing and now should be a millionaire. Because the “your-ideas-aren’t-worth-anything” camp is right on this one. It’s quite possible to have hundreds if not thousands of ideas like this a day. Because all they are are just vague, simple thoughts.

Then what’s an Idea for an execution?

Just what it sounds like.

Take an idea, and think deeply on how you might execute it. For an entire day, a week, or a month - the longer the better. Only think on things that would help you imagine how you might execute that main idea.

Let’s take the “A service that lets me borrow a dog to run with”, idea as an example.

You might start thinking in terms of :

  • “Am I solving a real problem?”
  • “Who would use this?”
  • “How much of my time can I spend on this?”
  • “Should this be a website?”
  • “How would this look as an app?”
  • “Could it work if it looked like Tinder?”
  • “Does this already exist?”
  • “What have the existing players got wrong?”
  • “Can this make money?”
  • “How much money could this potentially make?”

The list goes on..

Think as deeply and thoroughly as you can. Research, ask questions and write everything down.

At the end of this process, what you’d have is an idea for an execution. You haven’t executed yet, but you now have something a bit more valuable than just an idea.

Still an idea. But a cohesive one. And something you can build a business plan off of, and pitch to potential team members or investors (if you need investment at this stage is a matter for another discussion).

TL;DR: Can an idea have value? Depends. On what you consider an idea.

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