There’s been a lot in the news about the “Hyperloop” proposed by tech multimillionaire Elon Musk. This is an audacious scheme to propel people through vacuum tubes from LA to San Francisco at an average speed of nearly 1,000 km/h.
The Hyperloop faces huge engineering, power supply, land use and financing challenges (it will cost $6b to build). This is an immensely ambitious project that could only be tackled by a proven visionary and very wealthy individual like Elon Musk, who cofounded PayPal and SpaceX, and is driving the adoption of electric cars through Tesla Motors.
Yet every month I work with first-time entrepreneurs with plans that are almost as audacious.
For example Luthando (cough*details disguised*cough) is an engineer with a radical new design for bulldozers. This is a project that would require millions of rands and years of work to patent, prototype and market to the huge companies that make this equipment.
Start with a (Better) Bicycle Instead!
I encourage beginning entrepreneurs to rather tackle small, achievable projects first. This allows them to rapidly gain a full set of skills across a complete project, as well as building up contacts, credibility and confidence - rather than getting bogged down, and run down, working on an huge endless project.
For example, some self-confessed geeks from MIT called Fortified Bike Alliance have successfully started out by literally improving the bicycle - through designing and manufacturing innovative anti-theft lights for bikes (after a friend whose light had been stolen got hit by a car).
From bikes to rocket ships
Successful entrepreneurs have usually started with a small project and then, encouraged and equipped from that success, have tackled something larger, and then something larger still. You should look at planning the ‘evolution’ of your entrepreneurial career in the same way…
Consider starting with a non-profit venture
Some new entrepreneurs come to me with ideas for small, elegant projects that have just one problem - there is simply no way to make money from these ideas. For example, most apps that provide valuable information to people. These will usually need to be free to drive adoption, will never attract any significant advertising revenue, and if they did, would be copied in an instant.
But… if you’re not set on being a millionaire (and very few first-time entrepreneurs will achieve this anyway) you could make a success of this as a non-profit project. You could then get funding say from a large corporate who would like the exposure from sponsoring a successful app that helps people - including funding for a reasonable salary.
You won’t get rich - but you might get fairly famous! And this could be a great start for your entrepreneurial career. If you’re successful you will become known as the person “who created that incredible app that everyone uses” - giving you exposure and credibility and connections, plus you will have gained very valuable experience and confidence - and can now go on, well-equipped, to start a for-profit venture if you like.
I hope these ideas help you work…
Neil Hinrichsen is the founder of Koi. An entrepreneur all his life, Neil has cofounded two startups both of which were acquired, and is now working to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs in SA through his Koi platform, comprising a methodology for startups, classes, coffee sessions, mentoring, the KoiTips newsletters and a thriving online group. He loves working with young entrepreneurs who want to change the world. Neil also helps Microsoft with their BizSpark programme for top startups, provides mentoring at the Innovation Hub and other incubators, consults with corporates, advises the CSIR in South Africa on commercialising research, is an accredited specialist with the University of Pretoria and serves on the advisory board for Stellenbosch University's LaunchLab incubator. On the personal side he's involved in youth ministry and mentoring township teenagers. Learn more about Koi: KOI GUIDE | EMAIL email@example.com
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