I have previously written about the broad nature and significant potential impact of innovation and industry, government, and academic institutions are increasingly recognising this. In response to this recognition there is increasing interest in understanding how to support and nurture innovation and innovation ecosystems as a means of addressing significant challenges, promoting jobs growth, and fundamentally changing the nature of national economies. At the same time however, entrepreneurs are trying to better understand how to develop themselves personally and professionally to give their ventures and organisations the best chance of success.
What is Innovation?
I am inspired by the notion of innovation and for me it is synonymous with the entrepreneurial journey, and all the excitement, learning, and challenges those journeys bring. However, as we see the innovation tag becoming every more broadly applied I think it is interesting to try and understand what innovation actually is, especially for those of us aspiring to be truly innovative.
Look up a dictionary and you will typically see that innovation means to introduce something new but innovation actually comes from a latin word, innovare, meaning ‘to change’ and it is this latter definition that resonates most strongly with me.
Every journey begins…
I was recently chatting with a friend of mine who expressed an interest in beginning his entrepreneurial journey. He asked me where he should start and thus, to the best of my ability, here is getting started as an entrepreneur 101.
Getting started always begins (read should always begin) with a problem that needs to be solved. In reality, it often begins with a ‘cool’ idea, but, from experience starting with a clearly identified problem is a much better bet. Once you have identified a problem you need to get out there and check that it is a real problem for someone. This basically means you need to start talking to people, lots of people, in order to qualify and quantify the value of that problem. If you are able to qualify and quantify that value of the problem then congratulations, you are really onto something.
Comrades in arms
Turning an idea into a business requires resources, the most important of which, and potentially hardest to find, are human resources. These resources can include employees, contractors, mentors, investors, and fellow entrepreneurs. Starting out, you probably care most about people who can work directly on helping turn your idea into reality. These resources will typically fall into one of three categories:
It’s important to realise that co-founders, employees and contractors are very different types of people, whose needs / wants and capabilities may be vastly different. However, getting this mix of people right is extremely important because it is the quality of the people, and their working relationship, that will ultimately underpin the success of your startup.
Cultivating serendipity (or how I learned to stop worrying and love diversity)
Successful startups emerge from having the right idea, at the right time, in the right place, and any sensible entrepreneur will tell you that a healthy dose of good luck certainly plays a role in these factors coalescing. I believe that while it is impossible to manufacture a scenario where these three factors coalesce, it is possible to encourage it by cultivating serendipity. By this I mean an eagerness and willingness to be exposed to plethora people, ideas, and learning opportunities.
It is not just entrepreneurs who can cultivate serendipity. The people, and organisations that make up the entrepreneurship, innovation and startup ecosystem (the startup ecosystem henceforth for brevity) can also achieve this by ensuring that diverse opportunities, funding sources and types, mentorship, and support mechanisms are in place. By cultivating serendipity broadly within the startup ecosystem we are maximising the potential for a wide variety of different ideas, teams, and business models to emerge, grow and succeed.
Thirty pieces of gold
After having a great idea, the goal for most founders is to get some money through the door. Ideally, every business would fund its growth and development through revenues (i.e. sales to customers) but unless you are able to produce a product or service overnight there is an inevitable delay between when you have the idea and when you are actually able to make your first sale.
With this, almost inevitable, delay, it is necessary to think about other sources of funding to grow your idea. Thankfully, there are typically lots of different opportunities for obtaining funding including friends, family, and fools (the founders themselves?), grants, accelerators, incubators, angel investment, venture capital, and private equity to name but a few.
Down the rabbit hole
It always begins with an idea. This was not the first idea I ever had and three years on I can tell you it was definitely not the last. Growing up I always had the impression, from whom I’m not sure, that ideas were exceedingly valuable and that to create a startup you needed to have a really great idea. It has taken me many years to truly appreciate that great, in the context of startup ideas, has a very specific, and somewhat unconventional meaning.
But I digress. SimplyShow.me was born at approximately 2am one March morning in 2011 while I was driving from Canberra to Sydney. A day earlier I had chosen to forego an overseas job to move back home to support family who were dealing with some serious health issues. Determined that such a backward move, in a geographic sense, was not going to be a backward move otherwise, I determined that I was going to run a startup. SimplyShow.me would be my startup.
Do not go gentle into that good night
The humble startup. Like a star, it is born with an explosion of ideas. Its founders driven, enthusiastic and committed to conquering the world. The startup that held the aspirations of its founders, investors, and the community from which it emerged. The startup, that so consumed us it acquired a life of its own and became almost human. And then like all things human, death came.
Founding and running a start-up is one of the most personally and professionally fulfilling things I have ever done. Watching that same startup bleed to death as our cash reserves diminished is less fulfilling but no less a part of truly understanding the startup cycle of life.