in Books/Reviews

Ideation and Entrepreneurship: Interview with Liz Alexander and Naveen Lakkur

Dr. Liz Alexander (who I interviewed in 2013 on the topic of thought leadership) and Naveen Lakkur (Director, Founder Institute, India) wrote a new book titled “FOUND – Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business. The book is short but powerful enough to help entrepreneurs and ideators in bringing their ideas to life by following a proven five part framework. I loved the simplicity of the framework and real-life case studies which complement the insights.

 

I interviewed Dr. Liz and Naveen Lakkur to learn more about the book and how it can help ideators and entrepreneurs.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you Liz and Naveen, for sharing your insights here. I read your new book “FOUND – Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business” with great interest. I was curious to know what prompted you to write this book?

Thank you, Tanmay, for your interest in FOUND, which was a labor of love for us both. We always intended that this contribution be a catalyst that increases the success rate of entrepreneurship, not just remain a book. Especially since there seemed to be such a waste of time, energy and financial resources by many entrepreneurs in pursuing ideas that could not support sustainable businesses. You may have seen the statistic quoted by Adeo Ressi, the CEO and founder of Founder Institute in the Foreword to our book, that only about four in every 1,000 startups founded each year create a global impact. That equates to a 0.4% success rate, which I think you will agree is shockingly low. We sincerely hope that by following the proven, five-part process outlined in our book, we will see a considerable improvement in this figure in the months and years to come.

only about four in every 1,000 startups founded each year create a global impact. That equates to a 0.4% success rate

[Tanmay Vora] What is the number one thing according to you that keeps people from acting on their ideas?

It’s a great feeling, isn’t it, when you have what you believe to be a winning idea? You imagine that executing on it will be fun, easy, and rewarding. It’s only when you have to take action that you are thrust back into the world of reality. So we would say “fear of failure” is the top thing that stops people from moving forward with their ideas. Because then they have to face up to the fact that their desired outcomes may or may not come about. You have to have a strong heart and a huge amount of commitment to succeed as an entrepreneur—in fact, any kind of ideator. Which is why, for many people, it’s more comfortable for them to say, “I could have gone ahead with this idea, but….” and find excuses for not taking action. Despite the fact that there is always a huge amount of learning and benefit that comes out of seeing whether that idea could have become a viable business or a new product or service within an organisation.

“fear of failure” is the top thing that stops people from moving forward with their ideas.

[Tanmay Vora] Ideas are cheap, they say, execution is everything. But executing on an idea that is not viable is even worse. Is there an approach to guide us when assessing the business viability of our ideas?

You’ve hit the nail on the head of what the FOUND process is all about, Tanmay. The five-part framework we make available to readers reduces the time, money, and effort they may have otherwise expended on an idea that couldn’t become a business.

Let us offer a story from the book to illustrate what we mean. One of mentees that worked with Naveen through the Founder Institute, Bangalore had a background in Human Resources. He had a concept he called “Experience Zones” that he believed would boost employee engagement in large organizations. This, as we know, is a major issue to be solved. So you would expect that there would be no end of companies all vying to back this HR executive’s idea, right?

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. When he had visited 25 different companies to ask them what they thought of his idea, everyone said it was great and he should move ahead with it. But the “N” within the acronym FOUND stands for Negotiation. By that we mean getting more than tacit agreement. This ideator’s assignment was to get at least three letters from companies prepared to financially back his idea. But none of the 25 people who had been so enthusiastic about the overall idea were willing to put money into it.

That’s just one of the five parts of the FOUND process and all of them are essential as a discipline to follow if an entrepreneur (or intrapreneur) wants to confirm they have a market that will pay for their solution.

[Tanmay Vora] What are the top three things that an entrepreneur should do before they start acting on their idea?

What entrepreneurs should always look for is to offer a solution that fills a current or potential market need, rather than create a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.

We’re going to offer three things that should only come after the five things entrepreneurs need to go through when reading FOUND. And they are all to do with creating a community that truly supports the business:

1. Co-founders who can bring different skills and experience to the business, perhaps through a background in marketing or sales or different technical competencies.

2. Customers who, early on in the development of the business, are willing to pay for the solution and prove there is a ready market for it.

3. Catalysts, such as ideation specialists and intellectual property lawyers whose expertise can help guide the start up through some of the stormy waters that lie ahead.

By engaging with all three of these groups, the business can truly accelerate. What entrepreneurs should always look for is to offer a solution that fills a current or potential market need, rather than create a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.

[Tanmay Vora] My last question stems from Naveen’s introduction in the book which says “Converting Creative Concepts into Commerce with Compassion”. People believe that in most cases, commerce and compassion don’t go well together in a world of cut-throat competition. What does compassionate commerce really mean?

Thanks for this question, Tanmay. I (Naveen) has always believed that these two concepts can co-exist. If you take the definition of compassion it means having a deep awareness and sensitivity for others, especially when it comes to their misfortune. In the Free-Flow chapter of our book we point to how so many successful ventures have been the result of different emotions experienced by the founders.

It is that compassion in understanding that there are major pain points that you can solve for others that makes for the most successful commercial enterprises

Take redBus in India, for example. The whole idea came from the fact that one of the co-founders, Phanindra Sama, wasn’t able to buy a ticket to travel back to his home town during a major festival. It wasn’t just his disappointment that caused him to take action and create redBus but his recognition of how much distress this kind of lack of organization causes others.

In fact, we quote his co-founder, Charan Padmaraju in the same chapter who said, “It was all about building something that would be useful to someone.” It is that compassion in understanding that there are major pain points that you can solve for others that makes for the most successful commercial enterprises, in my view.

My specialization is to play the role of a catalyst to help these creative concepts become commercial realities, with compassion built in. Otherwise all we have is cutthroat competition.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you so much for sharing your views here, Naveen and Dr. Liz. I am sure readers of this blog will find these ideas and your book, useful in bringing their creative concepts to life.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our perspectives on the ideation process, Tanmay. We’d like to close by pointing out that by following a similarly disciplined process to the one outlined in our book, the Founder Institute has achieved a 91% success rate in terms of ideas that survive, a 70% success rate of entrepreneurs that execute on their plans, and close to 45% success rate of ventures that have attracted external funding. By any measure, all of those statistics are considerable improvements on the 0.4% figure we mentioned in our first response.

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