When you hear about entrepreneurs starting businesses, the back story is usually something like this: I was trying to get a mortgage and it was really annoying having to apply to all those banks, and I thought, the banks should be competing for my business. Or: I was wearing tight t-shirts on top of my jeans, but I'd lose weight so had to wear a belt underneath, which was bulky and ugly. So I invented an invisible belt. Very often, entrepreneurs have an ah-ha moment based on personal experience, and a company is born.
But you don't have to be particularly passionate about something based on personal experience to start a sucessful business. Take Daniel Burrus, futurist, entrepreneur and author, who has started six companies. He launched Visionary Apps, because he saw that computing was moving fast toward mobililty and smartphones, and that there was no efficient way for real estate brokers and agents to reach real estate investors. These technology advancements are what he calls "hard trends" that are not cyclical, but permanent. So he created iPhone apps, based on a recurring revenue model, that leverage the permanent technological change and the coming opportunistic boom in vulture real estate investing.
Burrus's new book, Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible (HarperBusiness), offers entrepreneurs a lesson in seeing around corners that lead to opportuntiies. His core principles include:
- Start with certainty (hard trends) versus assumptions about what might happen (soft trends). Demographic change is a hard trend. The population is aging. So if you are aimed at the geriatric market with novel ideas, you're headed in a valid direction;
- Take your biggest problem and skip it, in which you forget about today's problem, because it's really not the problem. It's the one or two beyond that one. Eli Lilly, for example, needed to add 2,000 PhD's to come up with new drug formulations but couldn't afford them. It thought it's problem was budgetary. But it found a way to skip the budget problem and crowdsource on the Web, offering to pay for solutions to molecular problems (only the ones that worked).
- Transform an industry, don't just enhance it. Amazon has a potentially transformative product in the Kindle. But if it gave the Kindle away for free then had customers pay for the Kindle-only books, it would sell many more books. So Amazon stopped just short of transforming the industry. Burrus says this is "stupid."
This book is really important for entrepreneurs. A lot of books I read on entrepreneurship are lazy -- not backed up by a lot of truly instructive examples. Burrus has done his homework. It illustrates every point with convincing examples that make it incredilbly persuasive about the future of business and culture. Listen to my chat with Burrus here.