Execution: The Only Thing That Really Matters


In America, we love our startups.


The new dream isn’t the house in the suburbs for most millennials, but of having that ONE GREAT IDEA that can blow up in popularity and get sold to Facebook for a billion damn dollars. Just one simple idea!


As a software developer I hear people’s ideas all the time, usually within 6 seconds of them finding out what my skill sets are.  Some of them actually are good ideas, plenty are garbage but some are quite good and are exciting to talk about. But none of them will ever make a penny, nor will their creators. How can I so confidently predict the fate of hundreds of great ideas and the clever people who dream them up?


Because ideas are worthless on their own.


We get so wrapped in the idea; the sharing of it, the protecting of it with NDAs, hashing out precise terms of ownership of the idea.  Our common mistake is that we forget people can’t own ideas. Felix Dennis, author of “How to Get Rich” (Hokey title, but awesome guy and book) says “People can’t own ideas, only the real life implementation of an idea”.


Felix is right friends, your idea is worth about as much as the cardstock your liberal arts degree from The University of Idaho State City College is printed on.  UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY BUILD THE THING.


Operating under that school of thought, we come to the scary and saddening conclusion:


The only that matters in life and business is execution.


Seems simple enough, why is it then that talk of execution (and how hard it truly is) doesn’t grace the front pages and sales copy of ‘self development’  and ‘entrepreneurship’ blogs? Because telling the true story of execution doesn’t sell. If you want to sell someone a $100 ebook on ‘how to start a business’ (selling $100 ebooks most likely), then you certainly don’t want to tell people it may be worth their time to build something of value and that it may take a long time.  It’s easier to say, follow your passion! Go out and grind! You can live the dream like me!


While this inspirational blurbs we’ve all come to know and love online are logically valid, they don’t really prepare our hopeful entrepreneur for the cold hard truths of building a business or a product. Here are some of the truths that I’ve personally discovered in my quests for execution.


Execution is the only way to truly make money.  Early stage startups usually figure this out the hard way. Unless of course they’re just trying to get VC funding and don’t care about income.  A rant for another time.


An insanely overwhelming majority of people cannot and never will execute on anything.   Take a closer look at the people around you that are trying to do more than just work a 9-5 (even look at the salary grinders).  What percentage of them are actually out there executing on SOMETHING and what percentage are quietly plodding along posting pictures of mountains with motivating quotes on Instagram without any tangible results.  


By results I don’t mean a successful product/launch/company, I mean just a real thing.  If you spend a year building an internet of things WiFi enabled diaper (hey that’s actually not a terrible idea) and it turns out no one cares or buys it, awesome!  You executed, and that’s all that matters.


Beware of the fake executors, avoid partnering with them.


In between the people that can’t seem to execute on anything, and the true builders of the world lie the fake executors. These are usually people with a good stream of ideas, but no real assets to speak of. They fancy themselves as entrepreneurs, and will always something new they are ‘pursuing’.  


The thing about these people is that while their head starts in the right place, they’re crippled by their own ambition.  It’s gratifying enough to think of new great business and pitch them to friends, so they never feel compelled to sit down and actually create the thing.  On to the next idea. These people are blast to have a drink with, but exercise caution when entering into agreements with them if you actually intend to execute. Before long they will be onto their next ‘great idea’  and will not do anything for you. Everyone will be onboard with your startup so long as they don’t have to put in any work right then, so be suspicious of their enthusiasm until you’re proven otherwise.


Execution is hard, and lonely. See the above point, chances are you won’t be able to find 3-5 friends that are champion executors to launch your idea with.  That means for at least the beginning, you’ll be going it alone. We’re talking years of late Friday nights working alone, trying not to see all the fake ‘look how extravagant my lifestyle appears’  bullshit posts on social media by all your friends who can’t execute.


This stuff is hard man, and that’s coming from someone who hasn’t made it but is still spending every night and weekend in the trenches clawing to write as many lines of productive code as possible.  I guess the essence of this truth is that execution sucks, it’s not some glamorous rise to the top that the ebook and online course world will have you believe. You can’t follow a course for this. It’s hard and mostly painful.  


Mark Manson writes about his early start as a blogger and writer.  He’s one of the most authentic guys on the internet and I recommend reading his stuff over mine. It’s way better and will probably benefit you more. Anyways, Mark quit his first job after a few weeks, and then spent the next FIVE YEARS working 18 anxiety stuffed hours a day. He fought for his life, ate shit and fear for breakfast every morning and ultimately transformed himself into the awesome dude he is now.  Mark executed, and still does for that matter.


It will take way longer than you estimate.  A common joke in software development, is that you take the amount of hours your gut says a job will take and then multiply it by 10 to get your actual coding time.  Turns out this rule goes towards executing anything. It’s going to take forever, so you might as well understand that and build up the grit to get through it.


We were supposed to launch our iOS Massage booking app January first of this year. It’s mid October and I still haven’t finished it. It’s beyond embarrassing to miss a deadline and break promises to people so just prepare yourself ahead of time for the struggle.


It’s worth it in the end.


Whether you succeed to your standards or not, the effort put forth in the struggle becomes what you end up enjoying and identifying with.  It took me almost 2 years from ‘the idea’ to buying my first income producing investment property. I looked at building after building, spent hours reading and learning trying to find a profitable deal.  In the end, I had purchased and closed on my first multi unit yes, but the value to me was in the real estate investor habits I built. 


Now we know what we’re up against if indeed we still aspire to build great things. Let’s get after it then!


Pick an idea and start working on it.  Commit to executing on it to some degree no matter what.
Take all other ideas that pop into your beautiful mind and archive them in a notebook or a google doc.  I do this with the intention of going back and building the ideas I have. If you’re like me, you’ll soon face a harsh realization that you put in exponentially more ideas than you cross off (if you cross any off at all).  But hopefully it will keep you from chasing the latest shiny object and help re-focus on the task at hand.
Work on it every.single.day.
This part has taken me lots of internal ego fighting to accept.  The activity of executing (whatever that means in your idea’s context) has to become your new daily practice.  Even if it’s the tiniest act, write 3 lines of code, send 2 emails to prospective buyers. Whatever your work is, do it every single day whether you feel like it or not.  If you want more on this principle, check out guys like Elliott Hulse(video content) and Steven Pressfield (books).
That’s it my dear reader.  Enough talking for me. Heading back to our app’s list of bugs to knock a few off tonight.  One fix at a time, one release at a time, one project at a time. The fight to execute really sucks, yet I also feel kind of in love with it.  Weird.

Categories: Essays