Triangulating opportunity

Some people get great ideas out of nowhere. They just pop up at the most unusual times and places. Other people can spend weeks looking over the ocean hoping to catch onto something and eventually leave the beach empty handed.

And some people just have a basic fear of the blank sheet of paper – of getting started at all. They need help in order to get the mind juices working.

On that note here is a small idea that might get you started:

One of the things I have often found helpful is to look into different kinds of trends and then try to combine those to see what pops into my mind looking at it.

I call that the ‘triangulating opportunity’. And here is how it works:

You draw three overlapping circles on a blank sheet of paper – Lean Startup style but with a sizable overlapping area for notes.

Then in each circle you write down a trend, you have observed and/or read about – something you know to be true and not just the figment of your imagination. Do so with a headline and small comment on what makes you think the trend is interesting and worth diving into.

Once you have done that for all three circles, you start looking at the overlaps and intersection of all, and then you start thinking about what opportunities could arise from combining the different ones.

Now, it needs to be said that there are no firm rules for which trends go with which trends. It’s all up to you and you need to try and do the combination. In fact, you could argue that the more unusual pairings, you make, the bigger the opportunity to come up with some truly novel idea nobody has thought of before.

What could an example of three trends be?

Fx what would happen if you tried to find opportunities in the intersection between ‘Second hand’, ‘Local’, ‘Instant Delivery’? Could something come out of that? Something that draws on the best elements of all three? I don’t know, but the example is simple and should give you an idea of how this works?

No matter what you get out of it, you get one instant win: You get yourself away from thinking and brooding about something with nothing to show for it. You get an assisted start towards something – potentially – and that’s always better than – well – nothing at all.

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Don’t ask. Fix!

When things don’t go according to plan, many of us immediately start to ask ourselves the obvious question: “Why?”

But maybe that’s not the best approach. Because when you ask why something happened, in the absence of absolute honesty – which is often the case – excuses, good and bad will take over. Because we all know there is always a perfectly reasonable excuse for why something didn’t pan out.

When we make excuses we’re not only in essence being dishonest to ourselves and others. We are also failing to learn anything, so that we can get it right the next time around.

What to do?

Maybe we should focus on using the same approach any workshop will use, when you send your car for service. They will perform a diagnosis on your car in order to figure out what needs to get done. What they absolutely won’t do – unless your case is very special – is start speculating as to why something happened to your car.

They focus on fixing the problem.

You should do the same, when things don’t work out. Instead of pondering “why?” and coming up with excuses, focus on what needs fixing, and what you can learn from the experience. And once you have done that and have a moment for yourself, by all means start pondering the big questions in life.

But not a second before.

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Viability does matter

The other day I finished “The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann and the Great Startup Delusion” by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell.

It charts in excruciating, painful detail the rise and fall of WeWork, one of the best funded most-hyped US startups ever. And it’s a great read that I highly recommend.

One of the tenants of the book is a marvel at the established idea that for successful startups only top line growth matters, no matter the cost associated with it. The general belief is that if you just get big enough, you can always sort the more mundane business stuff later.

WeWork proved to be the perfect example of why this isn’t the case at all. On the contrary, founder and CEO Adam Neumann and his investors led by Japanese Softbank more than proved that if there’s not really a there there, a crash will be inevitable. It’s just a matter of when the house of cards is going to come crashing down.

The interesting thing about the book and the phenomenon as such is that it’s always there in the open for everybody to see. Yet no-one really does something about it. It’s hard to say whether it’s for fear of looking stupid, fear of reprisals or whatever. But the end result is that even though we can all agree that this was not the way to do it, there is a near 100 % certainty that we will experience more cases like that again in the future.

Does that mean that you should have aspirations to be the next Adam Neumann?

Not if you ask me.

In my view stories such as the one about the WeWork implosion should give every founder pause and lead to the building of viable businesses that doesn’t have a structural expiration date.

It’s perfectly understandable that when the music is playing, you want to dance and dance all night long. But if you’re also just a wee bit into what you’re doing with your startup because you want to make an impact for people or change something out there, you should always, ALWAYS have an eye out for how your startup becomes a viable business in its own right.

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Needed: New breed of digital health tools

So far we have been used to medical breakthroughs in treatment of various conditions in terms of new medicines, where a new pill can be the solution to serious conditions and ailments of various sorts. The new and highly successful obesity drug from Danish manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, is just one example.

But every time a new drug pops up, questions are raised: Wouldn’t it be better to preempt the condition – if at all possible – rather than wait until it occurs and then try to provide medical treatment against it?

Some of those arguments go towards thinking of digital services and tools as a way of being more preemptive and over time reduce the need for often very costly medical treatment. The thinking is that we have the ability to provide tools and services of such a quality that it will efficiently be able to support or even replace doctors looking to preempt serious health conditions.

The argument does have some merit. We do indeed have a lot of knowledge about how to prevent things from happening, and we also have the most basic abilities towards putting those ‘recipes’ into digital tools and services. Yet, we still seem to fall back on high hopes for new drugs and treatments.

I think there is a very good reason for this; preemptive treatment while making a ton of sense is super, super hard for the patient. Think about it for a second: There are limitless examples of people trying to preempt a condition with the support of doctors, coaches, dietitians and whatever, and most of the time, these people still don’t succeed. Often because of the lack of stamina.

Thus I think it’s about time to start thinking about the next generation of digital health tools and services. This will be tools and services that should not only be looking to repackage what is already known about how to prevent certain conditions from occurring. They should also – and perhaps even more – be about how to grow stamina in the patients to help them succeed with the preemptive project so to say.

Until we have digital health tools and services that cater for those more psychological factors in more profound ways, I don’t think digital will play the pivotal role in keeping future costs of medical treatment down that many – including myself – would love to see.

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Mindset or skills?

What is most important? Having the right skills or the right mindset?

With all the talk about the need for further specialization to drive competitive advantage, you would think that skills are super important. But in reality it is the other way around:

Mindset wins. Every single time.

Now, why is that?

It is pretty simple really:

A persons mindset says a lot about character, values, tenacity, ambition – and pretty much everything else.

It speaks to the core of the person and how that person operates, and it is precisely those things that will help carry you and your team through thick and thin, when you have onboarded that person.

As for skills, they are important too for sure. But they are much more fleeting, and they can be learned, when you need them.

Mindset cannot.

Thus it is super important that when you recruit, you’re recruiting mostly for mindset and less so for skills. Of course it is a balance, but I am sure you get the point.

After all you would rather want a decent contributor with a great mindset than what looks like a superstar but who is in reality rotten to the core.

The first one will grow into doing great things with you and your company. The second one will poison everything around him.

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”What’s your pain?”

One of the worst sins you can commit with a customer IMHO is to just babble on about your own qualities and all the cool things your product can do, without even considering getting a feel for what the customers problem first.

I know. Because I have committed this sin a lot of times. And lived to regret it.

In start of going in and just pitching what you have, you should start by asking what problem(s) the customer is experiencing.

When they then start talking about their pain(s) – and you ask good follow-up questions – you start getting a feel for what they need. And if you’re any good you’re able to put yourself and your product into that context as THE solution to the customers problem(s).

Relief of pain is important for customers. A lot of them will probably even be measured on their ability to solve a problem, deliver a specific result og succeed at some level, where your help and product could be the missing tool they need.

And if the pain is big enough, and you position yourself and your solution exactly where the pain is, the chances of you making a sale is much, much bigger.

When you think about it it’s not really rocket science. It’s ‘just’ a matter of being able to start out listening more than you have the propensity to talk.

Just ask: “What do you need?”. And then take it from there.

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The new WFH opportunity

What will the Work-from-home (WFH) movement mean for local economic growth prospects? And for startups looking to facilitate this new way of basically organizing the economy?

Futurist Thomas Frey has an interesting take, in which he basically says that while flexibility for people and corporations will be at an all time high, the demands on investment in infrastructure is going to be gigantic.

Of course he is referring to the investments in bandwidth, support infrastructure (incl. education) etc., but my bet is that the investment opportunity in more soft components of these emerging ecosystems is going to be just as massive.

Many will doubtless see the WFH future as the domain of the big tech companies. But I think there are countless opportunities for startups to come in, seize opportunities to make this new reality ‘gel’ better and build some very substantial businesses from it.

I especielly think this is going to hold true as the big corporations by default probably are the least suited towards figuring out what a new flexible workday outside the corporate controlled office should look and feel like. Here the more nimble, creative players should have a very good chance of carving something out (before they are eventually acquired by the big players, of course).

We may indeed be on the brink of a golden age for digital tools and services supporting a remote economy. The question is who are going to go after it, and what kind of products and services will end up winning in this space.

Personally, I can’t wait to find out.

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Ask strategic questions

Not everybody is a brilliant strategist. And that’s ok. Yet every founder team need a strategy for how to develop and grow their startup, and what do you do, if the very thought of developing a strategy just gives you an uneasy feeling?

The simple answer is that you make it as easy as you can for yourself by ensuring that you have a simple platform from which you can get to work on your strategy.

There are many different platforms, you can use. With platforms, I essentially mean approaches. And there is one approach that is more powerful than most and which will easily help guide you through the process without too much pain:

Start by asking strategic questions.

What is a strategic question?

A strategic question is one that borrows from the “How Might We…”-methodology of the Google Design Sprint process (or maybe it was the other way around, doesn’t really matter) and allows you to frame your goal and aspirations for outcomes as a question.

A couple of examples:

How might we utilize our strength towards Segment A of customers to launch successfully with Segment B?

How might we grow retention in our customer base over 97% month over month?

Get it?

When you asks questions like that, you can start plotting suggested answers to them. You can word these like outcomes, i.e. “Launch 1:1 Customer Success offering for Premium Customers” and then look at which actions you will need to take in order to deliver on that.

When you have that sort of Christmas tree of objectives and actions – essentially an OKR structure – you’re well on your way to formulating a strategy: You will be crystal clear about what you will be doing, what the result is going to be and why you will be doing it.

The rest is – more or less – just a matter of getting it written up in a format that can be shared and discussed with your team and various stakeholders, before it becomes the new strategy to guide your venture towards even more more success.

But remember: It ALWAYS starts with being able to ask the right open-ended questions.

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