The on campus entrepreneurship scene is always buzzing. Among the many brilliant students and their innovative ideas, there are some people who stand out more than others, especially at the initial stages of the development of an idea.

Nivedita Karki

Sometimes this is due to the fact that their idea itself is brilliant — but often times it is so because they’re looking for people to work with them on their idea. These students, invariably, turn out to be smart ones who just didn’t choose to code, or to study business. They need an iOS/Android/Web-developer/designer and maybe someone for business development. So they talk to anyone and everyone who will listen, and their idea becomes well known.

Reggie Brown was a junior studying English at Stanford University in the spring of 2011 when he approached his friend Evan Spiegel with an idea — an app that allows users to send pictures that disappear within seconds. Spiegel, a product designer who could code, responded by saying, “That’s a million-dollar idea,” and the two recruited a third partner, hard-coder Ryan Murphy.

In 2013, Brown filed two lawsuits against Snapchat. “Ousted” from the company, Reggie’s lawyers claimed in November 2013, “This is a case of partners betraying a fellow partner.” It appears as though a settlement has still not been reached between the two parties.

For those who’ve watched the “Social Network,” or just keep tabs on the lawsuits against Mark Zuckerberg, this might sound similar to the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo Saverin situation. But at least the Winklevii received a handsome $65 million for what started out as their idea, and Saverin, along with a non-disclosed settlement, got reinstated as a co-founder of Facebook for his initial work as a business developer. The Winklevii and Saverin were all economics majors at Harvard University.

These lawsuits have become a staple, cautionary tale in the startup industry. Even on campus, you will occasionally come across students who’ve zipped their mouths as far as ideas are concerned. What’s funny is that these people are usually the ones who have the skills to implement their idea (yes, this includes my fellow computer science peers).
These are times when 20-somethings are making billion-dollar decisions that affect millions around the world, times when every business discussion involves the mention of the Silicon Valley — a place that boasts of success stories conceptualized in dorm rooms. Today, the idea that hard programmers fuel entrepreneurship might be the idea of the startup-life itself.

Ideas by themselves are not enough. Without the execution, an idea remains what it is — a mere thought, which will be forgotten in time. It is in no way comparable to working hard to build a company or putting out a product to sell.
The implementation of the idea is what makes it successful. So what happens to those who choose not to code? Or even those who choose not to go to business school? Is there no place for them in the exciting world of college startups? They are imaginative thinkers, but will they not have the skills required to implement their own, or for that matter any, ideas? If ideas are worth nothing, where do they stand in the bustling arena that is collegiate entrepreneurship?
And so they ask for help, for people interested to work with them on their ideas. They look around, talk to people. Whereas those with skills sit and work on their ideas by themselves, hoping no one else would put out a similar — or worse, — a better product.

Looking at the Snapchat lawsuit, you can’t argue that you feel bad for Brown — the English major. In court documents and coverage in the media, it comes across as if there is something morally incorrect about what happened to Brown. He should definitely be compensated for the work that he did. But the question is, what does this compensation entail?
And for that matter, these lawsuits from Silicon Valley point to an even bigger question — what does it mean to invent/create something? What is worth a billion dollars? Coming up with a brilliant idea? Turning it into a product? Relating it to your customers? Selling it to the right people? Solving a global issue?

I don’t know, but I am overwhelmed. This is a campus of start-up weekends and social innovation challenges, of Hackathons and career fairs, and of just kids with ideas looking to make some change in the world. Is any one part of the conceptualization of these ideas really worth more than the other?

Nivedita Karki can be reached at nivkarki@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.