Ilya Rekhter: Success is more than having a great idea

What is an idea worth? As the resident “startup guy” in my social circle, I get pitched new and exciting ideas all the time—from friends, friends of friends, parents of friends, students, co-workers. Everyone has the next million-dollar idea!

Most of the ideas I hear are genuinely interesting, but I have come to realize that most people are simply searching for validation: “Wow, that’s an incredible idea. Why hasn’t anyone thought of it yet?”

The truth is, if an idea is truly great, someone has likely thought of it before but might have hit a roadblock or moved on to something else. That’s where the real opportunity lies—in overcoming those initial obstacles and finding product-market fit.


Take Slack, for example. The firm started out as a gaming company called “Tiny Speck” and developed a tool called “Glitch” for player communication. When the game didn’t take off, the team pivoted to focus on the communication tool, which eventually became the successful collaboration platform we know today.


My first startup, DoubleMap, was no different. Our initial idea was to create an app to help riders catch the bus. While useful, we soon realized that most transit agencies were more focused on operational efficiency than rider experience.

At first, hearing “no” after “no” was a bit disheartening, but it was through this process of speaking with real-world customers that we had our breakthrough moment. We realized that our technology had the potential to do so much more than just track the bus. So we pivoted and focused on providing solutions transit agencies truly needed, such as automatic stop announcements for visually impaired riders and cost reductions through real-time data. The initial bus-tracking app we built became just a cherry on top of our product.

Our willingness to pivot and adapt led to DoubleMap’s expanding to more than 1,000 locations and ultimately being acquired by Ford in 2019.


My current startup, Megawatt, has recently experienced a similar pivot.

My initial goal was to build a Bitcoin mining company using sustainable sources of energy. This required my team and me to do a deep dive into the energy industry and resulted in some unexpected but valuable lessons—specifically about power outages and grid stability.

Power outages can be an inconvenience, but a full-scale energy-grid instability is a much more significant problem. Texas experienced this in 2021, when the combination of population growth and an unexpected snowstorm put immense strain on the power grid, leaving residents with sky-high bills or days without electricity.

Instead of building more power plants, which can be both time-consuming and expensive, regulators can turn the power off to Bitcoin miners at a moment’s notice to stabilize the energy grid in real time.

Upon realizing this, we pivoted Megawatt to serve as a buyer of first resort for the grid, taking in 85% carbon-neutral energy when there is excess capacity and scaling down as needed to ensure that people have power when they need it most.

Time to get started

So what is an idea worth? An idea is the seed that starts the growth of a successful business, but the ability to adapt and evolve plays a much larger role in determining the success or failure of a startup.

Without pursuing their initial visions, Slack, DoubleMap and Megawatt would not have been able to discover the needs in their respective markets and would have missed out on the opportunity to find a product-market fit. By listening to real-world customers and being adaptable, Slack became a ubiquitous communication tool, DoubleMap helped visually impaired riders catch the bus, and Megawatt leveraged Bitcoin mining to help keep people’s lights on during inclement weather.

I can only speak from my experience with DoubleMap and Megawatt, but I would have never imagined those outcomes when pitching the initial ideas for those companies.

So to the next person who pitches me a startup idea, I say: “Wow, that’s an incredible idea. Now it’s time to get started!”•


Rekhter is co-founder and CEO of Megawatt.

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