Entrepreneurial ideas are all about the right timing

In an era when the obsession with start-up generation is reaching fervour, it will be interesting to see which ones stand the test of time.

I suspect this is my 42nd column for this website, which means if you’re still reading, you don’t need to buy the likely full GrowthBusiness book edition, and this one should finally now answer all those meaning of the life, universe and business questions I’ve failed to cover before.

I’m an inventor. I try to make new connections and insights as early as the best (Apple/Google/Samsung types cite my growing patent collections) which occasionally blossom into few millions units of pre-landfill loved product.

A recent 21st birthday Dyson press showed James Dyson also invented Google Glass 10-12 years ago (there was a good Minority Report film on that year), and had money to burn on it – but thankfully ditched it as really it’s a nasty idea leading to deformed one eyed wombat dodgem cars controlled by the grid.

As an entrepreneur I also try to time some ideas better to market, by taking actions to grab more of the margin, by making and delivering to trying to move the market (difficult unless your brand is big). 

Innovation is as per consumption. I could have thought of it. I will buy it. Any gap or early mis-timing requires: a large marketing spend (you will buy this because celebrity X endorses); runway cover or trusting and supporting investors to carry the time delay; or a specialist sector expert investor/partner. All this until the market finally gets the idea, joke, consumption, need. A repeat of Have I Got News For You is zero funny. Neither is next year’s edition shown today. A Miliband-Farage coalition party? No, I don’t get it either. Not funny now or then in any scenario for business.

In the UK, recovery means sales now is the business. Property, coffee, apps are an instant gratification with market traction. A cure for cancer (sadly), or energy tech to keep lights on next year, doesn’t work for local investment – unless tested, available to buy and exitable now.

This is bad news for some growth sectors and in demand technology as obviously there is billions here for those wanting a risk once we wane from app purchases, pointless online gaming or booking service engines.

But why bother in a economic recovery when even my London house sitting doing nought has made hundreds of thousands ‘profit’ more than some of my R&D business units over the last year? This is somewhat depressing against the team work expended (rather than say playing games) day in day out. 

More so that even an average London house could have a ‘pre-money’ (mortgage) value greater than a well formed idea or developed start-up combined with a few years of locked in commitment from staff/founders with salary sacrifice or options gambit below what is realisable. At least in the US the investors recognise that talent and people are the workers who will make, and fix, and pivot and pivot and pivot until it works.

Perhaps more worrying is a new breed of ‘record label’ venture capital practice, as is becoming more normal in the sector. Whilst duplicate plays (on same predicable sector ideas) exist, the merit and success factor gained by being signed (receiving investment by premier VC) and thus gaining access to their road-show/talk-up and ‘art market’ curation, seems ever more essential. This is particularly true in a world that reads the same feeds, has similar talent, comes up with the same ideas and executes with similar off shore contract manufacturers.

An extreme is perhaps an emerging X Factor and Simon Cowell factory where there (as per Christian Lanng’s recent piece) is a fixation on the start-up and young scene – the idea that a ‘boy band’ approach is needed for a tech start-up to capture popular mood, culture and to aid its success or Kickstarter proforma video appeal.

Some might even orchestrate a venture, hire a front of house mannequin ‘CEO’ and flip to Wall Street funds. But that might be extrapolating the scene too accurately. No? Well you tell me why Airbnb is worth more than the hotel capital assets of several major global hotel groups, or similarly for an airline booking service repeat of an aged model. But will the physical hotel building still be there in a year, or 10? The answer, yes it will be.

One might view the art market as a useful reference. There, curators of value drive media, for what is after all presentation and appeal.

With fashion, throw away all your MBAs, Harvard and Cambridge judgements, profit and revenue flows. After all, companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, are valued on the premise that they’ll exist forever like a BP/Shell (100 years) or British Gas.

Despite evidence to contrary, social networks fade quickly. Will Twitter be front of mind in a year, let alone ten? Then again, with all senior executives at British Gas bailing or moving to run an emergency back-up power generator company, perhaps the online will outlast the gas-line.

A message in this 42nd piece is really fashion over logic. Nanotech has been around for ages and is defining, but to re-brand as ‘graphene’ or similarly ‘Internet of Things’ over M2M just makes for new business angel pitches, articles, catwalks and investment roadshows. It’s a case of history forgotten and repeated.

Maybe Google will start getting forget me requests by the new era of start-ups repeating ten year-old business models.

Inevitably, too the earlier innovation, consumption point. All this is market timing. Old, but right, ideas sometimes need spinning to make attractive to the current market. Even my ten year-old smart watch patents (uselessly early then, more valuable now) are part of this. When it comes to presentation and context, as with comedy, it is all about timing.

Simon Daniel

Simon Daniel

Simon Daniel is the inventor of the USB battery and folding keyboard. He was also CEO of Moixa, the renewable energy group.

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