We’re probably on about version six that we’ve actually developed and tried. So it’s been a sequence of different versions actually to get the product to do what we wanted it to do, but also for it to be adaptable to a whole range of different conditions, which every project is actually different. Ground varies. I knocked up a very rudimentary prototype out of paper and cardboard, some fans that I bought off of eBay, and it seemed to work.
So, I thought well, “if it’s solved a problem in my house– and my house is a pretty typical Tyneside flat at the time– and there will be many other people that suffer the same kind of problems, live in the same types of house, so it’s probably going to work for them as well.” Well you kind of go through sort of hundreds of versions in your head, but physical things you can kind of hold and see the differences. There’s around seven or eight different versions now. Sort of to launch the product was about that, and then since then, there have really been sort of three minor iterations to help with manufacturing or product quality, those kinds of things.
So it’s always an iterative process. When you first come up with a business idea, it’s just on paper. It’s not very tangible. But it tends to be other people working around you and saying things like “oh yeah. That’s a great idea. I would definitely make use of it.” They give you the confidence, and then as you work through your idea and start to write down on paper some of the processes, and procedures, and the things that you would do on a day to day basis, eventually you start to really feel like how it’s going to work. And then you just get this tipping point where you’re like, “yeah, I think I could probably do it.”
From when I had the initial idea, which was obviously when I was abroad, from there, I started to just jot down some ideas, and think about how the business might work and how it might look. But I wasn’t really motivated to do it until, I think it was November 2013. And that was when the building became available and the premises. And the premises were just too perfect in terms of location and what we needed, so I had to go for it at that point. There was no two ways about it.
So it was only three months really to go from this idea that had been buzzing around in my head, to suddenly having the keys to this building, and then four weeks after that we opened. And that was– oh I got goose pimples just saying it. An idea should be treated like a hypothesis.
One shouldn’t believe in an idea. I know it’s hard for some people to accept that.
I don’t like this thought of addressing an issue and saying, “I believe that–” I think beliefs need to be tested, like a hypothesis. I don’t think many ideas are truly original. They’re amalgams or variations on existing ideas. So I think it’s quite important to read a lot about, not only work in my own special niche area, but also in related areas. Because a lot of ideas are around repurposing existing processes, existing techniques from some other field to apply to new circumstances or to an evolving environment. Those who are the most successful get feedback fast and learn from it.
There’s not really much fun if you knew that you couldn’t fail, and that element of uncertainty, and risk, and being comfortable with risk, is probably the most enjoyable, frightening, challenging, personally confronting part of entrepreneurial activity. So if I knew that I couldn’t fail, there wouldn’t really be much challenge in that. Going from an idea to some kind of viable product is not an individual process. It’s very much a collaboration. So we get customers buy in very early. They say, “oh, we like this, but could you change it in a certain way? You know, it would be better if it worked like this.” We get buy in from other software engineers who bring new ideas to the process as well.
They might say, “oh, yeah. I’ve done something like that before, and here’s how we might want to change it to make it more efficient, for example.” So it’s very much a case of putting the idea out there and iterating very quickly on it. It changes in the early days very, very rapidly until you almost don’t recognise it. And at some point, it starts to stabilise, and you start to commit more resources to some kind of coherent vision that everyone by that stage has bought into. What did getting feedback on your idea tell you about your opportunity? I bet it changed what you first thought. Well that’s good.
The cycle of getting feedback and refining your ideas to meet the needs of your market is called iteration. All great ideas go through a period of iteration, which can last from a short while, to the lifetime of your innovation. How quickly can you show others what you want to do? Get feedback and use it to iterate and unlock your ideas on this course.