Throwing stones at great ideas

Published on September 26, 2017 by Tim Misson

Posted in Business

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Got a great idea for a world-changing tech product? Or a cracking new business that relies on tech as its delivery model? At Red River we meet lots of entrepreneurs with great ideas. We usually start by throwing stones at them.

A stone seems to float in mid-air in front of a child, frozen in the frameAllow me to explain. It’s incredibly hard to get a business idea to market, and harder still to turn that business into a commercial success. We only form partnerships with people and ideas that we truly believe will succeed, and an essential part of that is to get under the skin of a concept and find the ways in which it could fail. One of our first jobs is to bring our expert commercial insight into play: we challenge you, and probe your ideas for weaknesses.

The process can be brutal, but it’s vital. In his book Zero to One, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel sets out his vision for creating successful startups. One of his key principles is the need to create a new monopoly for your business, rather than compete within an already established market.

Zero to one refers to the concept of creating a breakthrough technology or idea, instead of just small incremental improvements to an existing solution. As Thiel puts it: “Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from one to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from zero to one… and the result is something fresh and strange.”

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Thiel contends that marginal improvements are unlikely to ever gain significant traction in the marketplace. Specifically, he argues that building a monopoly requires proprietary technology at least ten times better than any existing solution, and that the single biggest advantage that a company can create for itself is to invest in proprietary technology – it’s the most difficult aspect of a business for competitors to replicate.

You can find examples of this everywhere among successful tech firms. Thiel offers Google – which launched with a search algorithm an order of magnitude better than its competitors at the time – and the iPad, which was similarly better than other tablets. To that I’d add Tesla, which produces electric cars arguably as good as (or perhaps even better than?) conventional ones, and which people actually want to own. That last is an important point, too – there’s no point in creating something ten times better unless it’s something people actually want.

So, back to our stones. At Red River we know a great business idea when we see one. And we also know how to challenge you if we believe yours isn’t likely to succeed. If you haven’t truly defined your niche, lifted yourself clear of the competition or come up with a zero to one idea – we’ll be bold and tell you.

We’re not just looking for negatives. We’re really good at working out how you can resolve weaknesses by redefining or reshaping your ideas, and our insight helps us zero in on strengths and competitive advantages too. We’ll ensure that the solution we build for you will exploit your strengths to the full. Think of us as a really experienced business strategist, who also happens to be a whizkid product developer. We think that’s a pretty powerful combination.


Featured image: Petras Gagilas/Flickr, Creative Commons