Turning ideas into great businesses – inspiring learnings shared by those who’ve done it (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting to share this blog with you for some time – especially the insights and stories of those who generously shared their own inspiring experiences and tips with me while I was researching it.

The quest for where great ideas come from is something that has long fascinated me – not least because these days, I seem to be surrounded by people who’ve made real successes of their good ideas. And truthfully, I’d love to join their ‘club’. I really want to make a success of my ideas too.

In this blog, I’m going to share their learnings and advice with you, so we all have a shot at it!

Ideas and opportunities can come from the most unexpected places. And they don’t discriminate in terms of who can have them. Anyone can have a great idea.

What really makes an idea great, however, is what happens next. And that’s all down to the ability and mindset of the person to whom that idea belongs.

And that’s where my friends come in.

I asked them 5 questions on this topic. And because they gave me such great answers, I’ve split this blog into a couple of parts. This is Part 1 and it’s all about where they believe the best ideas come from.

Here we go…

Q1: Where have your best ideas come from?

Free your mind, look around you

Paul Begbie, the founder of Educate With IT, has just devised an exciting new online educational tool. It’s principally designed to help GCSE students to learn foreign languages more easily and naturally. It tracks the GCSE curriculum, ensuring that the students are learning and building on their language skills and knowledge in a relevant, complementary way.

 

You can’t force ideas.

‘Ideas never come to me when I am sitting at my desk trying to think of ideas…’

Paul Begbie, Founder, Educate With IT

Paul emphasises the need to step away from the desk, or your normal working environment, when it comes to finding the really good ideas.

‘Ideas just emerge for me,’ he told me. ‘Often on a walk or during a swim. Sometimes, it is just that I am doing one thing and realise that it could be applied in a new way. Ideas never come to me when I’m sitting at my desk trying to think of ideas!’

What’s important is to keep an open mind; to stay curious and alert to possibilities.

One of my favourite recent finds is PA&Go, a business that excels in being a sort of expert business concierge for small business needs – shout out and they’ll find a way to tell you, or give you, what you need on an amazingly affordable and flexible basis. From marketing to coding web-sites, accountancy to admin and payroll, these guys have it covered. It’s like having a whole other team on your team – when you need them and only then. Talk about peace of mind!

Sian Wingfield is the hugely pragmatic, calm and thoroughly reassuringly founder behind this business. So where does Sian get her best ideas?

‘All sorts of places!’, she laughs. ‘Some may come about from receiving a great service myself or seeing a wonderful advert. I then think: “What made that awesome? Why did I like that so much? It might even be that tube journey into work in the morning! I often wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea or way of delivering something – so I guess that means in my sleep?!’

Sleep

The power of our dreams to awaken ideas that may be bubbling away in our subconscious is something several of my contributors identified. It could even be in those moments just before we nod off too.

Serial entrepreneur, Tom Charman, co-founder of the much lauded (and already awarded), travel-app, KOMPAS (I cannot wait to use this more fully), shared that: ‘some of my more out-of-the-box and non-conventional ideas tend to come to me just before I go to sleep, so I always keep something nearby to write down those crazy things running through my mind.’

Other people have had a huge influence on the ideas discovered by my contributors too.

In conversation with other like-minded people

Shaun Jones, long-term marketing expert, recently turned startup founder, confided that he often gets his best ideas in conversation with friends and peers. ‘It’s that moment when you have a common goal or gripe and you start to throw ideas around, building on each others’ thoughts and ideas…’

From there, it’s not a big step to realise that you’re on to something.

For Appointedd’s award-winning founder, Leah Hutcheon, spending time with people she mentors can be a fantastic source of inspiration. ‘Giving advice often unlocks what I should be doing!’ she says.

And she must be unlocking a lot of inspiration from these conversations and other places! These days, her instantly adoptable, online booking software and CRM system is revolutionising how businesses, large and small and across the world, capture key data and schedule their meetings.

It’s quite a contrast to her position only a few years ago, when she and her initial business model were expertly dissected and put to the test nationally, by business dragons and the general public, when she participated in the BBC2 television series, The Entrepreneurs.

Leah emerged wiser and ultimately triumphant, but it was a pretty gruelling experience that taught her to keep an open mind and be open to new possibilities, yet also to hold fast and true to her own ideas and vision. Other people can take you so far, but it’s also critical to be able to control how far you allow them to influence you.

Channelling personal experience with people

Conversations with others has also been a trigger for Chris Longman, experienced actor, lead singer of the UK’s foremost steampunk rock-band and businessman.

And when it comes to business, Chris has run the gamut from employee, to freelancer and now as the founder of SkillBox Media, a business focused on empowering others with digital, video, presentation and media services.

As someone who had become as comfortable behind the camera and in the editing suite as in the spotlight, Chris found conversation with others helped him to zone in on what he really wanted to prioritise with his business ideas and his business model. It also helped him to refine where the demand was for what he could offer.

‘Everyone will have good ideas for businesses in their lifetime, but so many factors get in the way.

You have to have a passion to do what you want to do. And you also need a good network.’

Chris Longman, Founder, SkillBox Media

Chris told me that it takes a lot of deep thought too. After all, there’s a lot of imagination, self-belief and courage involved in striking out on your own and backing your own idea. Chris experienced rejection, probably more times than most of us (acting is a tough game), and he successfully evaded it many times too. So he decided to channel his experience of what really persuades someone to choose or dismiss you and to develop ideas for products and services that he could sell to help others to stand out and ‘be pickable’. He can teach you a thing or two about resilience and courage too!

Understanding what motivates people  

There’s clearly a real theme here. Laura Munoz is the founder of social enterprise, Empowering Futures, an organisation that matches bright business students at top UK universities with small businesses to carry out discreet projects that benefit both the student and the business.

Although Laura is in a totally different business from Shaun and Chris, she told me that her best ideas have also come from ‘being around people, listening to their stories, understanding what moves them, what makes them happy, what are their dreams and pains.’ And then looking for the opportunities that spring from those conversations.

In every conversation lies potential opportunity.

Charlie Cadbury, essentially told me the same thing. Charlie’s another serial entrepreneur and quite possibly one of the most energetic, dynamic and optimistic people I have ever met. If he wasn’t so approachable and supportive, you might be tempted to dislike him just for having a bit of the entrepreneurial Midas touch – and for being so consistently positive, even when we all know the startup journey is seriously hard!

Amongst many other things, Charlie’s currently the co-founder of the ground-breaking, intelligent in-room personal assistant business, Dazzle Technology. Just tell Alexa to connect to Dazzle and away you go: room-service, the weather, taxi ordering, travel times, where to go and what to see… Travelling and staying in hotels has never been so personalised, immediate and easy! Alexa delivers it all, courtesy of Dazzle – or maybe it’s the other way round?

Charlie’s also the CCO of Lolatech, an impressive software business, serving especially the travel industry and he still actively chairs several other successful creative businesses, including Lighthouse, an agency that helps businesses new and established, conceive and build digital products.

What’s made all of that possible? From where did all these great ideas and all of his boundless energy to bring them alive come? Charlie points out that observation is as important as conversation. You need them both to really find the great ideas. ‘LISTENING’ he emphasised in capitals in an email we exchanged about this blog. Point well made.

‘Observation is as important as conversation. You need to be doing them both to really find the great ideas.’

Charlie Cadbury, Co-founder, Dazzle Technology & CCO Lolatech

Listening and problem solving

These are also recurring themes amongst my friends.

Hannah Martin is the consistently impressive founder of the Talented Ladies Club, an online platform stuffed full of wonderful ‘how-to’ advice, tips, training information and tools to support small businesses and especially mums, who want to have a career on their own terms. Hannah stresses that ‘you get your best ideas by listening to problems you and people have and complain about’.

Tom’s experience chimes with this too.

‘My best ideas have always come from meeting real life problems that I want to solve.’

Ash Phillips, the crusading founder of YENA, the rapidly growing and now international, Young Entrepreneurs Network Association, agrees that problems often trigger inspiration. ‘I get my best ideas when I see a challenge or a problem that hasn’t been solved yet, and/or a demand from people for something they’re not willing or able to solve themselves,’ he reflects. ‘Combine this with the things that I’m passionate about and boom! – I’ve got myself a good idea.’

Passion

How important is passion in triggering new and great ideas?

A number of my contributors highlighted that passion was important too. You’ve got to care about something and feel enthusiastic about its context, to really find the inspiration for that great idea. And that passion might be triggered by inspirational speakers, clients, a hobby or maybe a great experience of something.

I quote him often, and you may have heard me say this before, but when it comes to the topic of business passion, these days, I always think of Deliveroo’s co-founder, Will Shu. Will’s key advice at an event I organised a year or so ago was:

‘Don’t launch Esty for pets (Petsy?!) if you don’t like animals!’ he counselled our audience. If you’re not passionate about the proposition, you’ll struggle to fully believe in it and you won’t get it off the ground. Passion is crucial for idea and execution of it. In Will’s words, if you want this to work, you got to ‘go all in’.

Going all in & getting on with it

Hannah advises against thinking too long and hard about how to creatively solve the problems that you hear.

Your idea doesn’t need to be perfect before you get started. Hannah told me that ‘often your first idea isn’t perfectly formed, but the only way you can find the real idea is by taking action and getting started on your business.’

And ideas will change as you start to build and shape them. That’s natural and not a bad thing. An idea should grow and evolve as it is tested with target customers and you start to experiment with its real potential.

‘Often your first idea isn’t perfectly formed, but the only way you can find the real idea is by taking action and getting started…’

Hannah Martin, Founder, The Talented Ladies Club

In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll take a look at how each of these entrepreneurs came up with the idea for the businesses that they’re currently running. There are some great, and slightly unexpected stories among the answers that they shared.

Above all, I found what they told me both reassuring and inspiring, for it seems that good business ideas are everywhere; what makes them good businesses is as much about people and good business discipline, as it is about the idea itself…

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