Starting a Business

We live in a world today that is saturated with ideas. There is absolutely no shortage and people are trying to start a new venture in every corner of the globe. While large conglomerates continue to grow, there seems to be an even faster pace with which the entrepreneurial spirit is rising – especially in emerging markets like India, China and Africa. So how do we come up with the next facebook, twitter (or even instagram?).

I certainly don’t have all the answers (or else I’d be up to something much better :)), but I do have some views on this topic. We live in a much more complex world than when our parents or any generation before them started a business. The ideas then were relatively simple and if you had the right idea, the execution wasn’t necessarily as complex (but most likely still difficult for other reasons, infrastructure, bureaucracy, etc.). I’m by no means trivializing the businesses that are some of the largest in the world today, but we face a very different set of challenges from what our past generations did.

We live in a world of heavy regulation, intense competition and a very low barrier to market with most businesses, especially in the Internet and New Media space. All you need is a computer and some technical skills to churn out a prototype. Have the right investors backing your idea, and you should have no trouble building a full scale working system.

I believe there are two critical things that we need to be successful:

1.     An intuitive and ubiquitous product

2.     A strong team

Let’s talk a little bit about 1. Today we work of iPads, iPhones, Androids and other such devices that are designed to meet the users wants and not just their needs. What they aim to achieve is to work in a manner that is most intuitive to the user (pinch to zoom, is case and point). The most successful products in today’s market are not those that are feature packed, but those that have a minimal set of features that can useful, as well as easily usable by it’s user. Designing any product be it a phone, a website or even a thermostat, needs to keep this in mind.

The second point is something a lot of people and the most unsuccessful ventures (and sometimes even successful ones) very easily forget. You may have a great idea, but without the right team to help with the execution, you are sure to fail. Going back to my favourite example of apple, it revolutionized the entire supply chain model that exists in businesses today, it decides what it wants to achieve first and then works out the best vendors and technology to be able to produce the device (read Business Week article). With agreements and exclusivity signed with every contractor, its competitors have no choice but to wait until Apple has taken over the market before being able to produce an equivalently competitive device. And when they do, they are unable to meet the costs, as apple has larger orders and better relationships, or, they’ve moved on to newer devices. While Steve Jobs might have been the brain behind a lot of the apple products, it is believed to have been Tim Cook who helped make it a success in terms of the supply chain model that has given apple the strong hold it does in the market today.

Apple you can argue at this stage was no startup, but the come back it made was by no means anything that a large company without a startup mentality would have been able to achieve. Google, eBay and much smaller startups of today often have founders who don’t carry on, or even start as CEOs. Today’s companies need to be structurally flat and agile, enabling them to adapt to changes rapidly – if they don’t they wither and die (remember Kodak?). With VCs and Angel investors pouring in money for new startups, they now have the luxury and option to hire an experienced team – a team for marketing, strategy, management, design and every aspect of a startup that needs attention.

It’s no longer just about the idea that started in your backyard- it is much bigger. The idea is just one half of the equation, the execution with the team you have is the other – hello MBA grads, time to put your six figure education to good use ;).