Eventhough I am a big proponent of starting small and experimenting your way forward when building a startup or a new product or service for that matter, there is one thing that always needs to be in place: A vision.
It is so easy to get an idea and just start executing small scale. It is harder to succeed in closing the first sale, but it becomes super tricky if that first sale is not supported by a vision of where it is you want to take your new company long term.
With a vision in place, you will know whether your first sale sets you off in the right direction and gives you something to build on. With a vision in place, your chances of making that first sale happen based on criteria and terms that supports your overall goal increases. Without a vision you risk tumbling in the dark. And – more importantly – without a vision you risk building a business that will never really be able to take off but will just (best case) hum along.
Even the best and brightest ideas should start small on the implementation side. Just out of respect for the fact that you could have it terribly wrong. Especially if your opportunity is huge, you need to be mindful that you don’t run the risk of creating a big mess by overreaching from the ‘go’.
Naturally, if you are developing a brand new and hugely innovative service or product, the world has never seen before and thus not know it needs, you will think differently about it. My point is just that those invention cases are the outliers. Most of the time you will be trying to improve on something already out there.
Moving in smaller steps doesn’t kill your opportunity. Because of course you have a flexible roadmap that will adapt as you move along and learn more. And because you learn and show respect you will gain trust of those you are trying to serve. And that trust will serve you well when getting to the point where you start reaping all the good stuff you have sowed.
Hello 2020! It’s a new year and with that comes fresh opportunity including the opportunity to set really ambitious goals for the coming 12 monts. So naturally, I have done that on behalf of my work as Head of Studio at inQvation.
In 2020 I want us to co-found at least one startup taking on a really big problem that affects +100M people worldwide.
I want us to develop a project from idea to startup with an experienced entrepreneur-in-residence, where we use our combined strenghts and experience to make a mark. Maybe we could even combine it with the above goal?
And finally, I want us to create “A Path To Success” for great talent within the startup space in Denmark, where inQvation becomes the ‘go to’-place for those looking to unleash their potential to bring great tech solutions to people who have the problems and pains to match.
Ambitious? Yes. Doable? A stretch but if all things align right, why not? Realistic? Not if we don’t try.
(And then of course there are all the other things that comes with being part of a great team that pulls together when needed :-))
Yesterday, the company I chose to deliver fiber to my home made their best effort to loose me as a customer. Due to unfortunate circumstances I narrowly missed a visit by a technician, and when I called them to figure out what went wrong, the customer support was rude and hung up on me.
Companies behaving that way may have a good or even great product. But they have a shitty customer experience. And in a day and age where basically everybody can do anything, the true differentiator between winning and losing as a business with the customer is precisely what happened to me: A shitty customer experience.
Whether you are in a corporate or getting your own startup off the ground you should aim to lead by experience; be the most open, accommodating, empathetic and what have you. Because even if I as a customer come to you with a problem, I will remember you cared – and I will our relationship an extra shot.
Recently I met with a good colleague for a coffee to share experiences. One of the things, we discussed, was how to do a handover from a project, you started, to someone else who is going to turn it into a business. It’s an important milestone for what we do at inQvation Studio, and thus getting it right is super critical to us.
I always imagined that the right approach would be to go out and recruit a great team, get the people on board with the project and then basically step back. But after our chat, my mind changed.
Because it is not about stepping back. It is about being pushed out by the new members on the team. Because when they do that they show that they are in charge and you are no longer needed. In summary, the people you are looking for to join the team are those passionate, eager and ambitious enough that they will challenge you – and ultimately drive you towards the door. Because then they will have made it their own. And that is what is needed for success.
It is so easy being designated as the one who just says “No!” to everything and whose largest contribution to the team is to foster a negative energy in every room you enter. But have you ever thought about how these people may actually be trying to do something completely different and of immense value?
If you think they are assuming that your project will fail, maybe they are just trying to see the warning signs ahead of time to let you know where to look again, make changes – and ultimately succeed? Maybe they are just as invested in your common success as you are?
There is actually a term for it in project terms: Doing a pre-mortem; assuming that the project has just died and then work your way backwards from there in order to find the risks, you should see and address before it is to late. Given how many projects fail, maybe it is an exercise worth remembering?
Greg Satell makes a very important point when arguing that even the best ideas cant’ make it on their own – they all need an ecosystem to thrive. Without they risk losing out to lesser ideas properly seeded through various channels. And that is – often – a real shame.
The point is worth mentioning because a lot of people with great ideas are very protective of them. For one, they fear someone will steal their idea, while in reality there are most probably already at least one or two competing teams working on the same thing somewhere in the world. Second, they want the most possible ownership to the idea, fully forgetting that it’s better to have 50 percent of a winner than 100 percent of a loser.
From all my experience in working with partnerships and – by extension – ecosystems, it seems to me that people still don’t really ‘get’ it when it comes to creating win-win relationships. If you start to think about it, it is a scary amount of potential value creation that gets left on the table every single day.
When you’re looking to solve a problem and improve something for someone, empathy matters. You need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the customer, feel their pain and use the insight generated to fuel your product development efforts.
When we fail to employ empathy and other soft skills like it, we may get to fabulous solutions but we run short of understanding the problem. Solving a problem. And when we do that, the odds for success are very much stacked against us.
So treasure your soft skills. And if you don’t feel you have too many of them yourself, treasure the ones in your team who do. Because you need them in order to be successful in a truly outstanding way.
Some ideas intuitively makes sense. Other ideas seem just about the most stupid thing, you have ever heard of. Yet, while the former can go on and become a viable idea, the dumb idea more often than not end up making a killing.
Andrew Chen calls it “The Dumb Idea Paradox”. I would just suffice to say it is a pointed reminder of one of the core guiding principles I have; you just can’t sit at your desk and expect to figure out the next big thing. You need to go out there, be curious and – as part of that process – challenge your own assumptions.
For some people betting on dumb ideas is the thing that they do. Maybe they just do it once, but it will be all that matters, once the idea takes off. For the rest of us, we need to tell ourselves that “no idea is that dumb” again and again while giving it enough benefit of the doubt to at least experiment and play with. Because, more often than not, no idea really is that dumb.
*: Of course there are really dumb ideas out there, and most of us intuitively know what they are. So there are exceptions to the rule, but expect the rule to be the rule.
Uncertainty seems the only constant when you’re working with innovation and trying to build a viable business. And there is good reason to support the argument that the more successful you are, the more you tend to be surrounded by uncertainty.
You can not – and shall not pursue – total certainty at any point in time, because doing so will slow you down and get you bogged down in process.
What you can however do is try to identify the factors most critical to success in your business and work towards getting to more certainty in those particular areas and use the insight to really rocket-fuel your success.