Cherian Thomas | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Cherian Thomas

Background:  

Spotluck is a dining app that provides users with discounts at restaurants based on day, time, weather and other factors that affect restaurant occupancy. The app is based on the premise that grabbing a meal should cost less on a rainy Monday night than on a busy Friday night.

 

The Mistake:

When I started [Spotluck], it was actually a Georgetown University master’s capstone project. One of the things I wish I didn’t do was, I pulled it from the university. I was this typical entrepreneur who thinks you have this great idea so you do everything you can to protect it. You don’t share it with anybody and you kind of go stealth mode. In hindsight, I really wish that I would have shared it, because at the end of the day, an idea’s just an idea. It’s really about execution.

[In the Executive Masters in Leadership program,] I had a cohort of 35 executives [from] 3M, Walmart, Bayer, etc … These guys were top executives, so I really didn’t want to just share my idea and vision for Spotluck. In hindsight, I really wish that I did take advantage of not only my cohorts’ knowledge but also the resources that Georgetown had.

Now, I actually have the honor of [being] an entrepreneur-in-residence at Georgetown University. So I spend about ten percent of my week mentoring startups and other founders and I think, "Wow, I wish I had someone like this" … and really took advantage of all these incredible people and resources that could have helped me in that early stage as opposed to trying to put so much on myself and the co-founder.  

No one’s going to steal your idea. An idea is just an idea; it’s all about execution.

The Lesson:

No one’s going to steal your idea. An idea is just an idea; it’s all about execution. And no one is going to eat, breathe, live, sleep your vision like a founder would. So it’s OK to share and it’s OK to spill your guts because that’s when you’re going to learn from great advisors and great mentors.

You can have the best product in the world, the best technology in the world, the best patents in the world, but if you don’t have the right people, it really doesn’t matter.

It’s really about leading people to take on big picture challenges. You can’t do it by yourself; you need to find people who are complements of yourself. I always look at our co-founder Brad and myself. If you drew a Venn diagram with Brad on one side and myself on the other, there’s very little overlap. And that’s a good thing. You don’t want a team of carbon copies of one another. You want people with different skill sets who are going to be the CEOs of their own positions. And that’s what we built here at Spotluck. It’s all based on the people.

Photo courtesy of Cherian Thomas.

Follow Spotluck on Twitter at @spotluck.