Ask Us Anything series: Ideas vs Execution: Which is More Important For Startups? Let’s Debate!

Posted on Wednesday, May 17th, 2023

Lightbulb drawn on a yellow sticky note, pinned to a corkboard with a red thumbtack.

The New Venture Creation team at the Research Innovation Office aims to help researchers explore the entrepreneurial potential of their ideas and foster an entrepreneurial culture at the University of Guelph. The Ask Us Anything series brings together entrepreneurial-minded researchers, be they just getting started on their entrepreneurial journey or experienced mentors, to support one another and share ideas in a community environment. 

At February’s session, the discussion topic was the idea of Ideas vs Execution: Which is More Important For Startups? Moderating this friendly debate was Tyler Zemlak, New Venture Creation Manager, and also representing the Research Innovation Office was David Hobson, Technology Transfer & Entrepreneurship Manager. In attendance was Adrian (startup mentor with experience in marketing, advertising, and software implementation), Keerthana Madhavan (cybersecurity researcher), Erin (public speaking and storytelling coach for entrepreneurs), Samuel Njau (serial entrepreneur with a background in public health), Steve Langford (mentor with large-scale retail expertise), Daniel Kolodzi (software engineer and co-founder of, and Abdullah Al-Hayali (co-founder of a medical imaging diagnostic platform). 

Here are some of the thoughts that were shared during the session. Attendees not only engaged in the debate question but also shared their thoughts on collaboration, trust, perseverance, idea theft, and intellectual property.  

Adrian: I’ve seen 100-150 company pitches in the past year and a half. It’s 80% execution, but the caveat is that a bad idea could grow to a certain level but never fully succeed. But even if you have a good idea, you can’t be successful if you can’t execute. 

Steve: Before you get to execution, you have to do your homework about other entrepreneurs and their journeys. This is one of the challenges in new mentees. You can go and find ideas easily, but if you have the ability to execute, then roll up your sleeves and get involved. 

Keerthana: Coming from a research background, I feel that planning is more important. If you have a good plan, you can execute. 

David: There are so many factors involved here, and certainly, if you’re a bad planner, it’s hard to execute. But there are some people who are good planners but when it comes time to execute, they struggle to nail it and get the job done. Ideas are a dime a dozen but if you don’t execute, you don’t move it forward. But if you can get the idea out of the door, those are the first people to the market. People who don’t know how to execute can screw up a good idea. But no one executes perfectly the first time, entrepreneurship is a “learn-by-doing” game so you need to practice and make mistakes along the way. 

Samuel: Ideas evolve. But you can have a great idea and it will evolve as you execute it. We really need to understand what it takes to execute - is it your motivation, is it your team, is it market knowledge? 

Erin: Having people who do something very different from me but are entrepreneurial has been very valuable for me. Not everyone I’m going to talk to is going to know what I’m talking about, so I practice explaining it to people who don’t have the same shared knowledge. Idea theft is awful and it hurts. But the thieves always lose in the end because you have something intrinsic that they don’t. 

David: It’s never too early to start thinking about intellectual property protection. You always have to think about protecting your idea and you have to trust who you share your ideas with.

Steve: I would strongly recommend reaching out to someone more senior for mentorship who, by definition of being a mentor, will not breach your privacy. 

Abdullah: If you have an idea, you have to accept that someone’s already had the idea, has done some work on it, and could be competing with you. So you need to be ready to execute quickly and pivot. There needs to be something unique about you, not just the idea. 

Adrian: If you find someone who can complement your skills, most people want to collaborate. Any good founder knows that they’re better with a team to help them. Very few founders that I’ve encountered are true lone wolves. 

David: Get help from wherever you need it to chase that opportunity as opposed to pretending you can do it all yourself. Unless you’re extremely lucky, no one does it all on their own. Use whatever resources you can to get your company moving forward quickly because if you’re too slow, you’re going to get left behind - that’s just how the world works. 

Samuel: There’s a huge element of trust when you’re collaborating. I need to know what their mindset is, their motivations, their passions, and use that to build trust. 

Erin: One of the things that makes people in the entrepreneurial space special to me is the people who do something different. And the story of “oh well, we tried but we failed” - that’s still a hero’s story and it inspires me! If you look at some of the most famous startups that fell apart, it’s because the relationship in the team broke down. So you have to have the contracts, the numbers, etc., but you need to have your team on the same page because it’s easy to lose that and it could cost you millions or billions of dollars. 

David: There's no point in partnering with someone who’s exactly like you. You’ll double your productivity, but you won’t change your creativity. Diversity in your team is an asset. 

Interested in sharing your own thoughts on this topic, or have a topic to suggest for future sessions? Contact Kelly Zeigler, New Venture Creation Project Coordinator, at to get involved in the Ask Us Anything series. 

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