Entrepreneurs are challenged every day, whether it is with implementing their ideas or seeking endorsements for their projects. Successful entrepreneurs carry in them the fire that helps them to see the light at the end of the tunnel, despite the adversities. An idea is not enough. Instead, identifying from a multitude of ideas the one which leads to sustainable solutions to issues at large is key. And that is the book FOUND’s premise.
FOUND: Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business, by Naveen Lakkur with Dr. Liz Alexander, is a five-step framework that guides entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs throughout this path. Mr. Lakkur works with the ideation model and the Rose Model process to help startups understand in a structured way whether or not their ideas are meant to be successful and, in the process, avoid potential pitfalls. The concept has been successfully implemented in startups and businesses in India and has been making a big impact in other parts of the globe.
The book leads entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs through various stages, from identifying the viability of an idea to the point of building a prosperous business, using numerous case studies. But this process is not as simple as it seems. Mr. Lakkur and Dr. Alexander bring up concepts and fundamentals of entrepreneurship which, in many instances, are easy to overlook.
In this interview with Dr. Liz Alexander, she brings a unique perspective on the book FOUND, entrepreneurship, and book strategy. Hope you enjoy!
1. You co-authored the book with Naveen Lakkur, who is also an entrepreneur and the director of the Founder Institute in India. Tell us about the process of developing this manuscript. When did the idea for this book blossom?
Naveen and I have been friends for a number of years, and we meet up when I visit India to work every six months or so. A couple of years ago, just after the launch of his first book Inseparable Twins, we discussed six ideas he had for books, and he asked my opinion on which I thought we might work on together. The concept for FOUND—which was still very general and undeveloped at that point—jumped out at me immediately. It seemed such a great idea to write a book based on Naveen’s proven experience of helping to transform 200 ideas into commercial realities. I knew there would be a big market for a book like this, not least to create value for aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs, given the current low rate of success. As Adeo Ressi, the founder and CEO of the Founder Institute, says in the foreword to our book, only 0.4% of startups achieve global impact. If the insights in FOUND can help to significantly improve that dismal statistic, we will certainly feel we’ve done something worthwhile.
2. One phrase that caught my attention in the book FOUND is when Mr. Lakkur says, “There is no security for an entrepreneurial venture when its future depends only on features and functionality,” referring to the need for “pain points” in finding if an idea can be successful. In a world full of noise and buzz, how can individuals identify the “pain points” and differentiate themselves from the crowd?
I think this comes down to something many entrepreneurial individuals and businesses tend to gloss over. It’s so easy to get caught up with what you think is a winning or brilliant idea and become so fixated on that, you end up creating a solution that’s looking for a problem, rather than solving a challenge for a ready-made market. Much of this has to do with context and timing, which is why I don’t think there can be a cookie-cutter answer to your question, as every case needs to be assessed individually.
For example, consider one of the biggest failures of the dot com boom, WebVan (1996-2001). According to Wired, “they burned through $800 million trying to deliver fresh groceries to your door.” The market didn’t have a big enough pain point for that concept to take hold—then! Today, of course, we have all sorts of successful companies doing similar things, from Home Chef delivering boxes of ingredients for homemade meals, to Instacart, which is now said to be worth $2 billion. Same great idea…it’s just that WebVan was too far ahead of a market that didn’t yet feel the pain as much as we obviously do today.
3. When thinking of the book FOUND framework and the Rose Model, I can’t help but make an analogy with the program Shark Tank, which airs Friday nights on ABC. If you were one shark and had to make a quick decision about investing in someone’s idea, how would the FOUND concept come to the rescue?
Sadly, I’m not wealthy enough to invest in anyone else’s ideas, but I have a lot of friends, both in the U.S. and India, who are angel investors and VCs, or “sharks” as the TV program you refer to calls them. One of the people I admire most is Ajay Goel, Managing Partner and Producer at Crestlight Venture Productions in Bangalore, India. When we interviewed him for FOUND, he introduced us to this fabulous phrase: “Do you have an unfair advantage?” meaning, “Is your business uniquely qualified to succeed?”
Now, success can be judged in lots of ways by investors. But if I were a “shark,” I’d take that concept of Ajay’s and ask if these founders have demonstrated the strategic thinking and disciplined action I believe differentiates short-term hot shots from sustainable businesspeople. In relation to the Rose Model you mention (fully outlined in our book), I’d want to see if they could clearly articulate the pain points in their market that would lead me to believe they’re offering a “need to have” solution, not just a “nice to have” idea. I’d want to hear about their core concept—or unique qualifier—that addresses a fundamental challenge for that market in a way that no one else is doing (their “unfair advantage”). However, if they only talk about features and functionality (“petals”), I’d turn them down, on the basis that someone could quite easily come along and either copy the idea or slightly improve upon it—and, poof, their competitive advantage is gone.
4. After the time working with Naveen Lakkur and the book’s entrepreneurial ideas, how did the FOUND framework change the way you do business?
I wouldn’t say it’s changed the way I do business. What I did discover by helping to articulate the FOUND framework was that it validated the approach I’ve always taken when deciding whether or not to extend my business to new markets or branch out with new ideas.
I’m a natural ideas-person (F for Freeflow of ideas); passionately connected to my work (O for Orientate); always conduct sufficient research before taking action (U for Unearth); look for “paying customers” that confirm or deny my belief that an idea is personally worth investing in (N for Negotiate); then look to see what emerges from all of that thinking, planning, and action (D for Determine/Decide) before making any firm decisions.
Although readers might think the book is only for entrepreneurs, it offers a number of powerful processes with which all kinds of businesses—from corporates to Mom & Pop stores–can become more innovative and relevant to their market.
5. You define yourself as a “Communicator” and have been long helping businesses with their “Ideation” through consulting and book strategy. Could you give us an insight into your work as a strategist? And how do you go about scaffolding business people’s ideas to transform into a book or another manuscript?
All business relationships are dynamic, so every client is looking for and needs something different from me. But here’s one example from my case files that will hopefully illustrate the strategic focus I take in my work, and how we transform that thinking into a book.
Some years ago, I was working with the President of a division within a multi-national financial services company who wanted to be seen as a thought leader in his field. I have a proprietary questioning process that I apply with each client in a way that’s most relevant to their needs. After taking this executive through that process, we hit upon the idea that no one else in his industry—at that point—had successfully outlined: How to provoke a movement that would boost the amount of money people save for their retirement, given that we’re facing a crisis point with Boomers right now.
The book was entitled Transform Tomorrow: Awakening The Supersaver in Pursuit of Retirement Readiness (John Wiley & Sons, 2013). Just before it was published, the author was positioned #20 in his industry’s Top 100 Influencers. Shortly after the book came out, he jumped to #5 on that list. Not only is Transform Tomorrow a wonderful book offering innovative thinking to help address one of the biggest social challenges of our time, it achieved the original goal of establishing the author as an insightful thought leader.
6. Still, from a writing perspective, if you were to use the book FOUND principles and apply them to someone who is just developing his or her book idea, how would you use it? What role would the Rose Model play?
That’s such a great question, Kelly. And something I answered last March in a webinar entitled How to Discover, Develop, and Deliver Winning Ideas.
But to answer you briefly here, I’d say that before you sit down to write your book, you should do some key strategic planning. With respect to the Rose Model, this means identifying the pain points by conducting a “competitive analysis” of similar books, particularly looking at the one- and two-star reviews on Amazon.com and other online sites to discover what challenges those books are currently not addressing (or not well). Then take yourself through a questioning process, as I do with my clients, so you arrive at a really solid, differentiated “core concept.” And one of the things I say about that is that you should be able to complete the sentence: “The question that I answer in this book is. . . .”
Finally, be sure you’re taking your readers on a satisfying journey by mapping out a Table of Contents (the features and functionality of your book) that provides what I refer to as the 4 Es: Explanation, Examples, Evidence, and Empowerment.
7. In the process of ideation, you have authored and co-authored 18 books (some of which are best-sellers). Now that FOUND has been released, what is next for Dr. Liz Alexander?
Like most people with a strong entrepreneurial drive, I thrive on change and challenge, which is why I’m in the process of completing my first novel. Having never written full-length fiction before, I was looking for something that would really stretch me. And although it’s been much harder (and taken much longer) than I thought it would, given that I’ve been a professional writer for over 25 years, I’ve loved every minute of the experience. As you are an avid book reviewer, Kelly, I’ll be sure to send you a copy when it’s published!
Liz Alexander, Ph.D., is a global hybrid: Born in Scotland, raised in England, and a U.S. citizen since 2009, she currently lives in Austin, Texas and travels to India on business once or twice a year. Her portfolio career can be summed up in one word: Communicator. A former business journalist and BBC TV presenter, Liz is the multiple awards-winning, best selling author of 18 globally published nonfiction books, several of which have sold over 300,000 copies each. She acts as book strategist and consulting co-author to senior executives, leading consultants and entrepreneurs worldwide (www.drlizalexander.com). Liz also works with business leaders and teams in the U.S., U.K., and India through her consultancy, Leading Thought (www.leadingthought.us.com), which helps aspiring thought leaders to harness strategically valuable, actionable insights that will help grow their businesses and boost revenue.