Lessons and confessions of a serial innovator @EvanThornley #ACBC12
Evan Thornley, former CEO of Better Place Australia is a successful entrepreneur who has also served in public office. Prior to that, Evan co-founded and served as chairman and CEO of Look Smart Ltd. (NASD: LOOK), an Internet search advertising company that remains one of the few Australian technology companies to be taken public on the NASDAQ and to have delivered a 100x return to venture capital investors. Evan was also a Founding Director of GetUp!, Online activist network with over 400,000 members.
Evan shared some of his wisdom with the readers of Anthill post his address to the Australian Chambers Business Congress titled ‘confessions of a serial innovator’. In opening his address Evan noted how the first 6 years of a child’s life are fundamental to his/her success as an adult, not unlike a Start-up! Here is some of the key out-takes from Evan’s address that hopefully help you start a beautiful organisation or continue to build a beautiful organisation.
Long Side #1: Great Idea
Every business starts with a ‘great idea however, Evan shared too many entrepreneurs rush to execution without thoroughly thinking through that idea, testing it, sharing it with others for builds and feedback and miss the two fundamental determinants of a good idea. Does your idea meet a core set of unmet needs for a group of customers, or solve some problems they never knew they had? Does your idea measure up on fundamental economics? It is not enough to have great technology and hope that customers and profitability comes post commercialisation of the idea. Technology is important but it is only a means to an end and the fundamentals of your idea must stand up to the two tests of a great idea. Evan shared the example of Better Place founder Shai Agassi who spent two years thinking through, working on his idea and sharing it in a white paper for builds from his government, businesses, investors and the community. Sir Michael Young who founded the Open University and many other social businesses noted that the true test of a ‘great idea’ is whether it can sustain a team and organisation around itself within the first few years.
Long Side #2: Team
Great ideas that are good from a business and social sense will attract a team. Evan noted he is approached frequently by passionate creative entrepreneurs’ who he described as ‘lone rangers’. Great creativity and passion for their idea but without a team around them they will not go onto great success. Evan’s feedback to these ‘lone ranger’s’ is ‘go away and come back when you have a team of 3 or 4 people around you’. In filling your team the tips are look for people with strengths and skills that complement the founder. How good are they? How passionate are they about bringing your now ‘shared’ idea to reality? When asked how do you recruit people from paid secure employment into your start-up Evan was quick to point out entrepreneurs have a responsibility not to take people out of paid employment and put them in a high risk start up without explaining the risks associated with a start-up. People need to self-select if they want to leave the safety net of secure employment for the risk and rewards of a start-up. Evan also pointed out the only thing worse than not having a great team member join your team is having them join and then freak out when the going gets tough and have them worrying about meeting the mortgage or paying the kids school fees.
Short Side #3: Culture & Values
The first of two short sides to a beautiful organisation Culture & Values are the important ‘glue’ or ‘anchor’ that will hold the start-up together and guide it through troubled waters. The beauty of a start-up is that the founder(s) get to set the culture and values for the organisation. How those founders treat their people will be fundamental to how that start up performs and is perceived by its customers and stakeholders. For more on the importance of culture and values in start-ups and organisations see Lesson #3 and Bonus Tip #2 in Are you a winner or a loser?
Short Side #4: Governance
The second of the two long sides of a beautiful organisation Governance is often overlooked by founders early in their ventures to their detriment down the line. Second only to running out of financial runway in terms of problems for start-ups and entrepreneurs’ are problems caused by a lack of Governance. Fights between founders, between founders and investors, and issues of Governance only get worse the more successful a business becomes as everyone seeks to claim ownership of the entity. A clear shareholders agreement, a Board of Advisors and if possible a Board of Directors are some of the Governance tools an entrepreneur should not gloss over or leave to later on down the track when starting a beautiful organisation.
For a short video share on the 4 sides to a beautiful organisation go to…
For an in-depth insight from serial innovator and entrepreneur Evan Thornley you can watch his Tedx Talk linked to here…
Dermott Dowling is founding Director @Creatovate Innovation & International Business Consultancy. Dermott is a strategic, innovative, business professional with a passion for building great brands, businesses and teams with experience and achievements across companies, countries and cultures.