The journey of any entrepreneur starts with an idea. This idea is dwelled upon, worked on and then turned into a business. Many ideas can be turned into a successful business – but there are two key things for a ‘startup’ to succeed: they have to be innovative, and more importantly, they need to have the ability to scale.
At the closed-door corporate innovation program MERGE at T Hub, India’s largest incubator based in Hyderabad, we spoke to corporates, investors and experts to understand how startups must look at innovation and scale.
The core of any startup is innovation. To begin with, and successful entrepreneurs agree, innovation needs extreme passion and guts. If you have an idea, have the guts to go after it and put it to test. Be passionate enough to work on it day and night to turn it into a successful business. Without the two, there will be no desire to take the idea to the next level.
Solve a problem
What comes next, is to understand what the idea is intended to do. It is extremely important for those wanting to start a business to know whether or not they are solving a problem, and one faced by enough people to want to buy the solution. Sometimes solving simple problems can make for the best of businesses.
Understand the market
And when you are looking to build a product that will solve a problem, it is also very important to be aware of who and what the product is meant for. Meaning, if you are going to make a product that you want to take to the world, it is imperative to understand how every market functions.
Do your costing
The solution to the problem must also have a business proposition around it. Will a customer want to pay a certain amount for it? Will it generate revenue that enough to keep the business running? And is it cost effective? One cannot build a product that requires a huge amount of capital to make, but cannot generate sufficient returns.
What must go along with solving a problem is creating value. A startup cannot build something successfully if it is not adding value to the customer’s life. There might be other solutions that might meet important needs. But if your product is meeting that need better than the others, you are adding value. Only then will a customer be willing to pay for your product over the other.
Innovation doesn’t always have to mean starting something from scratch. If something has already been done, and you have a new way of applying it or a new way of using it, that could be an idea that can work as well. For example, mobile phones changed how we communicated with each other. But an addition to this innovation was mobile phones turning into smartphones. When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, he introduced the concept of touch controls on a phone. He took the phone and made it smart. Like he said in his Key Note once, Apple reinvented the phone. This changed how we use mobile phones.
That is how an incremental innovation can work wonders for a business. And today, we pay a lot more to be able to use a smartphone.
With a strong business proposition in place, the next step is to scale up. No business is truly successful if it cannot scale and sustain. Speaking at MERGE at T-Hub on Thursday, experts observed out how getting through the first stage isn’t enough. The second stage is equally important as the first and one should be able to deliver their passion,
It is a combination of factors that need to be worked on. To start with, a product or a service can be scaled if you can get the acceptability and standardization right. In simple terms, the idea should be replicable. It cannot be city or state centric. If an idea has worked in Hyderabad, the same concept should be successfully applicable even in Mumbai and Delhi, or New York.
Srikanth Sundarajan of Ventureast says that a company needs to get its unit economics right. “One cannot run forever on discounts. Once you stop the discounts, you will lose your customers. Your product has to be differentiated and priced well,” he says.
To take your business to the next level, collaboration is key. One must collaborate with the right partners and take your idea to the right markets. For this, it is essential to find the right channels and distributors. These can be vendors, or even large corporates.
And how a business can leverage the right partnerships without compromising on the price or quality will determine how far the business can go and how long it can sustain.
The notion that customers are loyal to a brand is changing. The consumer today is looking for value. If you deliver value, you will retain your customer. But this must be done strategically. Only burning cash to gain market share isn’t sustainable. When the cash is burnt and shop is shut, the customer will find himself a better value.
Never lose sight of the topline and bottom-line. A business must strive to hit profitability at some time. Investors, too, are now becoming more cautious. No one is pumping in money unless there is a sound business model and a path to profitability.