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It’s All About Execution

The Upstarts.jpgIn a class that I audited many years ago at Yale’s School of Organization and Management, entrepreneur/professor Bill Lyons opined: “There are a lot of great ideas out there. The idea gets 5%. It’s execution that’s hard. Execution gets 95%.” So it goes with the businesses — Uber and Airbnb — described in Brad Stone’s The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World. Attentive readers will recall my brief comment on Stone’s book about Amazon, The Everything Store, in which I noted the involvement of many Dartmouth alumni in the creation and growth of Amazon.com.

Stone’s new book seems less comprehensively researched, but the critical takeaway is how multiple other companies tried to do the same things as Uber and Airbnb, but were out-hustled, out-financed and out-chutzpahed by the latest generation of internet phenoms — innovative, energetic and ferociously competitive creators. The term robber baron is archaic, but Uber’s Travis Kalanick would give Jay Gould a run for his money.

Who today remembers Airbnb’s predecessors and early competitors: Couchsurfing, VRBO, HomeAway and the home rental section of Craigslist? And Uber’s rivals: Zimride, Lyft, Taxi Magic, Cabulous and Seamless Wheel? Some of them still exist; all have been eclipsed by the two powerhouse companies that are now used by hundreds of millions of people every week all over the globe. Only Lyft is still trying to play in the big leagues, having had its day when it pioneered what we now know as UberX, leaving Uber to play catch-up for once (in fact, Uber uncharacteristically encouraged regulators to shut down Lyft’s ridesharing-by-anyone-with-a-car service).

What a remarkable company-creation ecosystem we have in this country. Angels and venture capitalist will invest billions of dollars in nascent firms that are a long way from profitability. The end result is companies wildly successful like Airbnb and Uber — and a host of also-rans where investors lost all their money. Nobody on the globe comes close

Addendum: In auditing about 45 Dartmouth courses over the past three decades, I have heard every few years in class from pessimistic students that the great opportunities have already been taken. First it was Microsoft and Apple; then Google and Amazon; followed by Facebook and Instagram; and now Uber and Airbnb. Kids, the future is not yet over.

Addendum: One has to wonder at the lack of diversity among the founders of these now-massively powerful companies. Virtually all are educated-in-America men.

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