growth

Best Low Risk Innovation Tools For Your Startup – Free Book

LEGO has earned the right to celebrate. Not only are kids playing with more mini LEGO people than there are human beings on the planet but in 2015, they were nominated by Forbes as the most powerful brand in the world. For a company which was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2004, the toy maker has made an amazing turnaround. They restructured, hired a new CEO, and forged more licensing partnerships than ever before. Most importantly, they discovered the secret to some of the world’s most successful, low risk innovation strategies.

These strategies helped LEGO create a powerful brand envied by every other company in the world. However, successes like these are not, and need not be, restricted to global companies with billions in revenue. The point of low risk innovation tools is that one can use them to test ideas in any setting and with any budget. Whether you are a cash strapped startup or a Forbes 500 firm, sustainable innovation can be your ticket to success.

Out of LEGO’s lessons and that of hundreds of other companies, I have distilled the most successful techniques to innovate cheaply and effectively. They are all contained in my book Innovation Tools and, as an additional bonus, the readers of the Startup88 community can get it for free at Amazon this week by clicking here. Among others, my book answers questions regarding how strategies used by companies like LEGO are able to turn companies around from looming bankruptcy to industry leading success.

When LEGO restructured and returned to their core business to climb out of a $300 million loss in 2004, they realized innovation as usual was not an option. The first step on the toy maker’s journey was to embrace their loyal and creative fan base.They hired so-called “adults fans of LEGO” for their design team and began to crowdsource new toy kits.

As the crowdsourcing venture proved successful, the block manufacturer turned this into a full blown open innovation policy by opening up the LEGO Ideas portal. Through user input, this online platform generates hundreds of new product suggestions each year and uses some subtle and powerful open innovation techniques, employing everything from social media to peer selection to entice fans into contributing new designs.

Within its factories, LEGO has also embraced a philosophy of rapid prototyping, even to the dismay of its older engineers. In an interview with the AFR, David Gram, head of marketing at Lego’s Future Lab, stated that “[W]e only develop the few key features that are really needed. A typical engineering mistake is wanting to invent all the things the product might consist of in one go … we throw that into the market and get feedback from consumers”. This is a technique blossoming all over the world in Maker Faires, Hackerspaces, and Makerspaces.

As big and successful as LEGO is, they could still benefit from the many other innovative strategies employed by other industry leaders. For example, there are powerful forces driving both the creation and dissemination of knowledge to the world. As many technical discoveries are driven by access to the latest information, this will be a game changer for business. For startups or large companies pursuing numerous risky ventures, information is power, and risk mitigation is the name of the game.

Another powerful shift disrupting traditional industries is the new way software is delivered around the world. Products are now able to be delivered in smaller parts, requiring less commitment from a consumer and turning the decision to use a tool into a “no-brainier.” This is even affecting industries with business models based on completely unrelated ways of delivering their services such as medicine.

Another important piece of the innovation puzzle is us; you and I. In the end, it is up to us to make the innovation decisions, but how do we decide? This question can be answered by one of the most exciting developments of the 21st century: a symbiosis between two powerful branches of science, behavioral economics and innovation.

Although these tools are important for a company’s and entrepreneur’s day-to-day work, we also want to know why all this innovation stuff even matters. What happens when we innovate cheaper? What benefits are there to simply lowering our innovation risk beyond the obvious?

Understanding the basics of these techniques and integrating them into your innovation strategy is what differentiates the disruptors from the disrupted. Up until now, it has been difficult to find them all collected in one place with enough details to be able to successfully use these innovation tools.

Competition never sleeps and LEGO is continuously being challenged by new disruptive innovators attacking their market side-on, such as Minecraft. Although the block manufacturer has a license to produce Minecraft styled pieces, challenges can come from anywhere. Full throttle up the innovation curve requires low risk tools to balance the innovation and fiscal imperatives. LEGO has discovered this, but have you?

The point is that we need to keep innovating without risking financial ruin. This is a difficult balance that my book seeks to discover. It details some of the best techniques available to not just turn an almost bankrupt company around, but also to supercharge any business or entrepreneur wanting to develop the next unicorn opportunity. Before you go, get your free copy now before it’s too late at Amazon. This offer is for this week only!

Is Your Startup Idea Worth Nothing?

The mantra of ideas being worthless can be heard from all corners of the globe. Venture capitalists back founders and not ideas. As mentioned in another blog, in 2009, the entrepreneur and author Seth Godin got the nine of his alternate MBA students to come up with 111 ideas each to create 999 business ideas. The point? To prove that “Ideas are a dime a dozen. The money is in the execution.” But is this correct? Your gut feeling demands that your best ideas are worth more than nothing, right? Right.

There are many reasons why people say ideas are worthless. Some claim that for VCs ideas are worthless so they can pay you less for your business early on. Others have seen so many ideas that they feel like there is an oversupply and so their value is nothing. The most common one, however, is that the value is not in the idea but in its realization. Take two companies with a similar idea, Google and AltaVista, one is the multibillion dollar envy of the tech world, the other a broke, wound up company bought out by Yahoo. The difference? The execution.

On the other hand, sure, lots of businesses fail but a great execution isn’t going to turn a rubbish idea into a success. Bad ideas that are driven to profitable businesses often turn out to be a sham, cheating people of their money and time.

Idea vs Execution

In this dichotomy, idea vs execution, people assume you only have two things you can control, your idea and your team (execution). Other factors such as timing, competition, etc are assumed out of one’s control. With only two things to decide upon, where does this leave us? Are ideas really worthless? The answer is no and it has been clearly demonstrated by a German company called Rocket Internet.

In 2007 three brothers, Marc, Oliver and Alexander Samwer founded the company Rocket Internet in Berlin, Germany. Its business model has been described as a “copycat” by the New York Times and its products would seem to confirm this. In 2012 Rocket Internet started FoodPanda, a food delivery service, copying the GrubHub (established 2004) business model from America. For most other popular business ideas, they have their own version. Uber – EasyTaxi, AirBnB – WidMu, Blue Apron – Hello Fresh, etc. The model is clear, take a successful American business and found a copycat somewhere else in the world where the business is not yet active. Mostly this means in their home country Germany but it can be anywhere else such as Sao Paolo for EasyTaxi.

Rocket Internet has demonstrated that ideas are worth a lot because they take the good ideas and repeat them with another team and a simple execution formula. The execution becomes routine, the teams are composed of whoever is available, so where does it leave the value? In the idea.

So It’s In the Idea?

But clearly ideas without a good team to execute them are worthless. Lacking good people, a good idea is like a stray dog looking for a master. The most famous example of this is the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. Started by the Nobel Prize winning William Shockley, the laboratory built some ingenious products in the semiconductor industry that were set to revolutionize the industry. The problem? Shockley himself.

Although his ideas were revolutionary, William’s management style has been described as abrasive and paranoid in many articles and books. He routinely insulted and belittled his staff making working with him near to impossible. As to be expected, his relationship with his initial backer disintegrated and Shockley was left to his own devices with the company floundering in 1969 as the transistor industry flourished.

If our ideas are worth something then how do we value them? TED speaker and author, Derek Sivers has suggested a tongue in cheek formula to compute the worth of an idea but convincing propositions are hard to come by. As we now know, a billion dollar idea in right hands is worth a billion dollars. In the wrong hands nothing.

What To Do?

My suggestion is the following: If you have a great team who can execute on your billion idea, then it is worth exactly that. Companies such as Rocket Internet have shown us that a good execution can be orchestrated. The wide range of businesses they have entered also show that being an expert in the given field is not necessary and so the value of the team is less. Once we realize that all the different parts can simply be clipped on to generate success, then all that is left to drive value is the idea. Each part of the business becomes a commodity apart from the one thing which isn’t formulaic.

A good idea is exactly that, good. People can create hundreds of ideas but this doesn’t mean any of them are good. Because so many of the parts of a startup have become systematic, the most valuable thing now is a tool to determine the value of an idea. What we need is an idea to value ideas. Now that is something valuable and worth much more than any single idea. It is something VCs have struggled with for years and still seem not to have cracked it. If you have one great idea, then this should be it. Any takers?

image credit: Flickr – Ramunas Geciauskas

The 5 Tricks To Build A Startup In 6 Months Like A Pro

I wanted to reach out to everyone in this blog post and share with everyone some awesome tricks to build a startup lightning fast, validate your idea within six months and have a growth-ready startup or die trying. Ok so not the latter, just the former.

What I want to discuss here are the great things you can take advantage of because you live in Australia. We have an amazing safety net to catch fallen entrepreneurs and a startup environment which now has pretty good infrastructure. So let’s get to it, what should you do? Well the first thing is to have an idea and assuming you have one, let’s get to the first step:

  1. If you are new to the startup game, time to get a business plan for your idea. So to get some free advice to put together a powerful business plan, go to the government’s business websites and look at the new enterprise incentive scheme or the grow your business development plan if you are anywhere, the small business bus if you are in VIC or the small biz connect if you are in NSW.

This is important because you are going to use your business plan for the next step. And in any case, it doesn’t hurt to have a roadmap to try and avoid taking the road to bankruptcy.

  1. The next thing to do is, if you are eligible, go on NewStart Allowance – yes, the dole. If you are a recently graduated student over 22, go on NewStart right now if you haven’t started working. You will use your business plan from 1 to qualify for this!

For those of you with a lot of pride this step can be hard. But trust me it is the way to go. However, care is needed if you currently work as quitting your job may disqualify you for NewStart. There is no point in lacking a cash flow while you a building a startup, so swallow your pride and open your bank account.

  1. Get all the benefits you deserve: rental assistance, concession health care cards, etc. Check out Centrelink for more info on what’s available to you.

This step is all about reducing costs to a minimum so that your NewStart goes as far as possible. Once we’ve got you living and able to have the food tank full so the sparks keep flying in your idea factory upstairs, it’s time to start supercharging that idea and taking it to the next level. How? With someone else’s money.

  1. Go find an incubator and use your wonderful business plan from 1 to trade 10% or so of your company for at least $20,000.

This step is essential. Basically you should be getting office space, more mentoring, access to a network of other likeminded individuals and more. There are many incubators around Australia which offer this, e.g. IgnitionLabs. A great blog at the fetch lists a longer list. This step is critical because it will fund step 5:

  1. Use your incubator money to hire your gun programming mate for 6 months.

Here you will be giving employee number one $20,000 and equity in your company to get the rocket primed for launch. The point of doing this is so both of you now have a wage, so that you can both be laser focused on your business idea and don’t need to work on the side. You now have two of you to develop twice as fast and discover twice as quickly if your idea is going to work.

Obviously you’ll use best practices to refine your product, lean startup methodology, design led innovation, etc. However, the point is, you’ve got your money, office space and team to start kicking some butt. Doing it this way means that instead of knowing if something will work in 12 months, you’ve got double the man power to do it in 6. So if you haven’t done it yet, get out there and do this and launch your business in 6 months and know whether it will work or not instead of wondering what if…