Thursday, August 29, 2019

Immersive Entrepreneurs & What's Next for Me

I'm an immersive entrepreneur.

Not all are; some want to know the basics of what they need to know to sell their products or services, and that's enough, which is a very good thing because it means a lot of business keeps moving that way.

But innovation can only occur at the point of the problem, which we can perhaps envision, but most of us learn more by working on it in real time, in the room, experiencing the problems and obstacles that serve as the sand in our oyster (broad discovery can happen anywhere, as can vision).

We have to touch it, toss it up and down, stare at it for hours, ask it how it's doing, what its lineage is, how its ancestors were made, what went wrong and why, how often.

We need to know the smell of the room, the noise in the hallway, the motion outside the window--the environmental stuff when it's relevant. The bottom of a delivery van gets hot to the touch on a hot summer day--you might not want to pack the floor with boxes of chocolate chip cookies (gooey learning by experience). What's the innovation need in that case? Smarter packing, or a cooled or insulated van floor.

There are downsides to being an immersive entrepreneur, especially if you're also an innovator with vision, working outside of your primary personal skills.

The Immersion
A year ago I started kicking an idea around a quite brilliant friend of mine had. He had a great start--the tech was functional and I know his history so I know it would only get better; everything's programmatically possible with him.

It was exciting. I saw it as a broad platform for mobile development, with its own ecosystem of developers and third party software companies depending on it. So I dug into it, taught myself the tech, went deeper and taught myself some of the underlying tech, built a few samples, and learned what else was out there.

There were dozens of mobile dev platforms but no clear leader. I wondered why, and concluded there is a lot of noise in that market, none are easy from start to finish,  documentation generally sucks, and (this is the key) most of the platforms served as lead generation for services for themselves rather than focusing on making each customer/developer successful.

I found little appetite for investment because we'd have been a late entrant into a crowded, noisy market. And I had immersed myself completely: developed spreadsheet business models, charts comparing competitors, a new UI and UX for the product, designs, platform charts, and learned new frameworks, took courses, etc, etc.

I was all in.  But the tech wasn't quite ready,  and my friend had no time outside of work and family, so the capital was crucial for creating time and space to work. With even a small success it would have been a significant win for investors, but I couldn't make the case, possibly because of my five-year detour sinking all my dough into baking bread to hire people.

The upside?

Well, I learned the tech. I'm able to build React websites and React Native apps. I got back in touch with my inner Node and Express, and nicely satisfied with the Mongo wrapper Mongoose.

And I relearned the importance of immersion, as well as the cost: I risked my own time and opportunity to immerse myself in a project where I depended on someone else who wasn't fully available, and, even knowing that, dove in deep to learn as much as I could, because the vision was powerful and the tech compelling.

Plus it tapped into two of the things that drive me: to make the world an easier place to live and work, and to build something valuable at a large scale. It takes a lot of belief for me to go that far into something, and I don't regret it. There was something powerful there.

Growth Consulting
I immerse similarly when I help my client companies to grow; I can't do that well without understanding their markets, how they make their products, who it helps and how, etc. They get that for free--I can't work any other way.
 
My main gig is consulting to startups and established companies on anything from growth strategies (marketing strategies, sales systems, analytics) to capital and accountability. More on this later, once I get the new site up. This format is out of date. But I'm not :)

What's Next
The ideas list is long, but there's one project I've wanted to do for quite a while, so I've been digging in ... (if you know what product I'm talking about please don't mention it in the comments).

Years ago I had an idea for a common consumer product, designed in an uncommon way, that might scale because the underlying idea has broad applications. And as usual I thought it was unique, but found recently there were hobby attempts over 10-15 years ago, but none with a goal to ship a commercially viable product.

Going to market is a lot tougher than proof of concept.

So I've been immersing myself in the product design world once again, this time learning basic electronics, the joy and pain of Arduino, electronics supply chains, etc.

And of course I had to choose a product where I'm not an expert at the base tech! I have to learn everything and depend on someone else with experience and judgement to help me make the right choices. Again :)  Which is also fun, but one day I'd love to just make something without having to be an apprentice. Sigh...the generalist's lament.

Anyway, we'll call that a side hustle until I know I can pull it off profitably, which means costing out parts, assembly, regulatory stuff, etc, which means studying, learning, and asking experts. It takes time--that's even before optimizing.

Ideally, what's next will be something I really believe in that will help the world. The side hustle won't address that, but it will be fun and profitable, so it's a nice interlude until the next next big thing.

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