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.

(Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash)

The ‘know all’ fallacy

Some of the most charismatic and persuasive people I have ever met have also been the ones who have been the most convinced that they had it all figured out and knew everything.

Until they didn’t.

I am not suggesting that they all failed. But a good number of them did. Because they thought they ‘knew’, ventured ahead without taking stock of what was going on around them – and ultimately hit a concrete wall.

Besides the pain of that particular experience, the most painful thing was that it could most likely have been avoided by adopting a very different approach.

A learning approach, if you will.

When you adapt a learning approach you are more humble.

You’re able to take more signals in.

You are more aware that you’re not directing the world, the world is directing your opportunities, and you adapt.

Adaption is key here. The world changes and you need to do that too in order to be forward looking.

‘Knowing it all’ is inherently backward looking. And not very useful when things fundamentally change.

When you learn and adapt, you are able to seize new opportunities and with that the odds of success increases.

Which again makes it pretty stupid to insist on being the one ‘knowing it all’, don’t you think?

(Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash)

An age perspective

“You’re just too old!”

I hear it thrown around every once in a while. Not specifically at me but more as a general shoutout to voice dissatisfaction that someone simply just not ‘get it’.

But does age really have anything to do with it?

Of course not.

In fact I think quite the opposite is at play;

Using the age argument is like arguing “This time is different” about why something that was a bust in the past will be a success now or “We have the best tech” as a reason for why you’re going to win whenever you enter the market:

High risk arguments with little validity in data.

So if the “You’re too old” argument is a flawed one in itself, what can we use the difference in age for in an extended startup team?

Well, for one youth can be put to superb use – if applied with clear thought – towards something that other people might not think is possible doing. Because the big advantage to a lack of experience is that you don’t know what you’re entering into, and thus you’re more open to risk.

Just think at the warm stove the first time you touched it, because you didn’t really believe that it was too hot. You only did that once, right? And got the hard earned experience.

Youth also typically have an abundance of energy of the sort that comes with eagerness to get out in the world and do something and – for most – a basic lack of other substantial obligations (family, kids, mortgages etc).

So what does age bring to the table that could be fruitful to the young ones?

First of all experience. Not of the kind that stops great ideas in their tracks but the kind that helps the young guns avoid the most obvious pitfalls, so they can stear clear and get a cleaner path towards ultimate success. A kind of a mentor that gently guides without taking over control in any sort of way.

Second, a shoulder to cry on. Now, I do not necessarily mean that literally, although if that’s what’s needed, so be it. No, I mean it more in the sense of someone to talk to and seek support at when the going gets rough, nothing works out, the roof is falling in and you’re just generally feeling like an utter failure.

Because that’s exactly what you need at that point; someone you can went to – and be heard, respected and understood by someone who has most likely been there her-/himself.

So think of these things the next time you feel the urge to claim that people who don’t get you are just “Too old”.

(Photo by Paolo Bendandion Unsplash)

Vision needs strategy

Most startups are founded on a vision; a wish to help bring about change to something in the world. But many lack a coherent strategy of how to get there in the end.

How come? The difference is in the meaning of the various words.

A vision is like a desert mirage. It’s aspirational, something we can imagine but is not real – yet.

A strategy is a plan to find the waterhole in the desert, so to say. It doesn’t have to be a complex plan with a lot of moving parts, but it needs to be a plan that can – if nothing else – convince people that not only might you be on to something. You actually also have some kind of idea of how to capture it.

Many startups frown at the word ‘strategy’ and doing strategy work is a pretty long way down the list of priorities. But while it’s true that execution is key and should take precedence over ‘thought’-work, they still need to set aside time to develop the plan.

Otherwise how are they ever going to make it to the fulfillment of the vision?

By luck? By endless trial-and-error?

Of course not. So get the strategy that supports the vision in place. Make it flexible based on what you learn on the journey, but nevertheless utilize it as a map to get to the destination, you’re longing for.

(Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash)

Time your own luck – now

Getting a business off the ground of course has a lot to do with the idea and what pain you’re looking to solve for customers. But it is also about timing and luck.

Some people say that you can make your own luck. And perhaps that is true. To an extend.

What you certainly can do is look around you at what’s going on. And if you look at the world right now, there are at least 3 good reasons, as I see them, why this might be a great moment to time your luck so to say and venture into something new.

First of all, a lot of incumbents in different industries are busy elsewhere handling the fallout from the pandemic with disrupted supply chains, increasing prices on goods, lack of talent etc. They’re way to busy with that to innovate in earnest themselves let alone keep a keen eye on what you’re doing.

Second, there are a lot of change afoot after the pandemic. New trends have emerged, new patterns of behaviour – some of which we still need to see the resilience of after the pandemic eases, mind you – have got on the radar etc. And with that new pains, needs and demand for new, innovative solutions that you might be able to provide.

And third, there is the work-from-home thing. While some people yearn to get back to normal office life, there are also millions of people out there who feel the opposite. They are ready for a change. Maybe even for a move into entrepreneurship. So when I said above that incumbents might have a hard time finding the right talent, it could be an entirely different matter for you.

So what are you waiting for?

(Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash)

You need mutual respect

Over the past year I have been spending a lot of time trying to understand how to help researchers at universities bring great research into market through spinouts. And I wanted to share my experiences in a series of posts.

The first post on ownership structure is here, and this is going to be about the founder team and an important cornerstone in making a team gel:

Mutual respect for what each member brings to the table.

In my mind great founder teams have never been about sharing the same background, friendships from school, hobbies or the like. For me great founder teams have always been about getting a team together with a shared passion for solving a big problem and a skillset and experience that compliments rather than overlaps.

I have always held this belief also when I worked at corporates hiring new team members; get people in that are better at what they are going to help out with than me or anyone else already in the team and provide them with the room and mandate to maneuver.

In many respects it was about filling out the blanks based on what the business needed to succeed. It was about looking at what it would take to succeed with the mission.

The same principle should be applied to founder teams of researchers from universities. No questions about it.

Most often researchers will be brilliant at what they do. Essentially thats why they are researchers employed at universities. It also implies that there are other things they are not equally good at, and for many understanding and building a business outside the walls of university campus is one of the things they are not particular skilled at.

So they need help. Preferably they need outside help from people who knows and have tried (and perhaps even also failed) to build a business, and who in turn know next to nothing about researching. Again, very little overlap – mostly complimentary.

In most cases researchers will understand and accept this, but there is one potential problem; creating a team culture, where there is mutual respect for all necessary contributions to succeed.

It is not uncommon to meet researchers who have spent years on their research, and who naturally place a huge, indispensable value on this. Sometimes these same people can have a very hard time placing the same kind of value on a new member of the founding team, who will essentially be looking after the business side of things and ensure that the spinout actually has legs on the other side of the university wall.

This creates friction and the potential for an A and a B team inside a very small team to start with. And this is poisonous.

And not only that. It is also flat wrong:

Even though researching is hard and coming up with breakthrough innovations is super hard, making it work in the real world afterwards is perhaps even harder. Because while a great researcher might apply his knowledge and experience extensively in the lab and be really focused and use all the time needed, a lot of the outcome of the research is somewhat within the control sphere of the researcher. A lot of it basically comes down to the individual.

The same can not be said about making it work in the real world. Not only do you need skilled people with lots of experience. There are also endless moving parts outside the university walls that it can often be hard to predict and that you need to navigate in order to stay afloat, let alone succeed.

In essence it is a moving target, where everything changes in an instant, and you need to adapt to that. It is a whole different level of uncertainty and anxiety, which it takes great skill – and often also lots of luck – to navigate successfully.

Getting the business side right is a navy seal skill. Almost literally. And given that it makes absolutely no sense inside a team to run the risk of elevating someone at the expense of someone else. It creates friction, will ultimately make the person being degraded leave and the spinout tank before it can live up to any of its original promise.

The good thing about all the above is that there is a really simple fix:

Mutual respect.

The realization that in order to everybody succeed, everybody needs to feel valued and appreciated as key players in the onwards journey.

If you don’t truly feel like that in the spinout, you’re working to create, stop and fix it immediately. Or drop the spinout completely.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Be problem-driven

There are quite a few really good arguments for why you should focus on the problem rather than the solution, when you’re trying to build a successful company. But there is one that I think takes the prize as the most powerful one:

By focusing on the problem, you broaden the opportunity for yourself, your company and your future success.

Why?

Because you start being less solution-focused. Not agnostic as such because there will always be something that you do that you need to put into the product to give it the real edge it needs. But less solution-focused.

You may start out developing and shipping one product, get a good reception and perhaps even some decent traction. And once you can see that the core fundamentalt of what you’re doing seems to resonate in the market, you can lift your gaze and start thinking about what’s next.

And this is where focusing on the problem rather than the solution enters the picture:

By focusing on the problem, you will see more opportunities just by looking. And others may present themselves that you would otherwise not have noticed. And this gives you opportunity.

Instead of being strong in a niche, you can become stronger in a space – and maybe even grow to become dominant of an entire industry.

Because you chose a laser like focus on the problem.

Looking in retrospect, most companies don’t become wildly successful by just doing one thing or having one product. They become wildly successful, because they understand the market they are in, the jobs, pains and gains of their customers and constituents – and the problem space they’re working on.

You should apply that approach to yourself and your company too.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Find your ambassadors

When trying to build a powerful startup team from scratch, I have found there is one trait it’s hugely important to have in every co-founder;

Ambassadorship.

With that I mean a person who will take the torch, carry it everywhere and be an unconditional spokesperson for what your team is setting out to accomplish.

The key advantage of having ambassadors all around you is that you will not be left to do all the preaching. While it is energizing in the very beginning, you can quickly both become tired of preaching, and at the same time you can get concerned as to why it is that you seem to be the only one doing so.

With ambassadors all around you, you’re spreading the message. As a team. That’s super important.

But how then do you figure out when you don’t have the right ambassadors around you? Well, that’s tricky. Because the most honest answer probably is when your startup hits a really rough patch.

If you don’t have the right ambassadors, the team is going to crack under the stress, worst case disintegrate completely. That’s when you realize than in essence you may have been the only one holding everything together (also even if you might have thought otherwise).

If you do have the right ambassadors, they will be looking for solutions to your woes. Perhaps even above and beyond what seems doable or logic. Because they want what you have set out to achieve so bad, they are willing to do whatever to keep the dream alive.

I realize those are pretty stark contrast. But in reality I also think it reflects just how important having ambassadors around you is.

At the end it can be make or break for your team and your startup.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)