A few years ago, Max Levchin—of PayPal and Slide fame— told me there were two kinds of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley: Those who work tirelessly and are great at execution, and those who are visionary and truly create new ideas—and sometimes new markets. Levchin put himself in the former category. Indeed, a lot of Slide’s success has just been the result of doing a better job ripping off ideas from competitors like RockYou. He put Evan Williams of Blogger and Twitter in the latter. At the time, Twitter was only a techy phenomenon, but Max noted that unlike a lot of other Web 2.0 companies, Twitter was one of the only ones doing something untested and new.
But—as Levchin no doubt knew when he made this point—the visionary is usually the one that gets the shaft in Silicon Valley.
Napster changed the music world, but it was iTunes that profited off of it. Google was one of the last companies in the Internet bubble to try their hand at building a search engine—and was laughed out of some VCs’ offices as a result. Palm pioneered the smart phone, not Blackberry. And Friendster was the social network pioneer before Mark Zuckerberg even entered college.