What is the key to being a successful entrepreneur? Work a lot? Innovate? Or maybe it’s something else? We consulted entrepreneurs and other experts from different parts of the world.
Ajay Harinath Singh
“Innovation is a word that is said without thinking much,” says Indian businessman Ajay Harinath Singh.
He believes that entrepreneurs should focus on meeting the needs of consumers. “Designing models that adapt to different markets is as important as creating innovative products,” he says. “It’s not about the complexity of an idea or how ‘innovative’ it is, it’s about doing well and offering a very good service.”
For Ajay Harinath Singh, the main reponsibility of an entrepreneur is to make things happen. “Many people have great ideas, but ideas have to be carried out,” he says.
“Some of the best ideas are the simplest; an entrepreneur does not necesirly need to reinvent the wheel. We currently have many social problems, such as the distribution of food for example, that could do with more entrepreneurship.”
Ajay Harinath Singh dedicated a considerable amount of his career to bring innovation to the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid in India. For Singh, the simplest innovations are usually the most important for this group. The success of some entrepreneurs can be an incentive for more young and intelligent people to develop ideas to solve the problems of the poorest. “In reality, it’s not about making great inventions but about applying the inventions to our daily life,” Singh says.
Cesar Salazar, 27, created his first company while preparing his degree in Sweden.
His current company, Mexico VC, deals with financing and advising Mexican entrepreneurs. Salazar believes that the lack of available natural resources and markets encourages innovation.
“Sweden is very good at generating wealth from ideas, and it shows when we see that a country of around nine million inhabitants has produced numerous global and successful brands,” explains Salazar. “Since Sweden has only few resources to exploit, we have had to focus on exporting ideas.”
The United States benefits from the magnitude of its domestic market and, therefore, in comparison, it is not as innovative, according to the Mexican entrepreneur. And although American culture is usually inclined to taking risks, Salazar believes that this country can still host more entrepreneurs.
An easily accessible market can also hinder innovation, as well as Mexico’s dependence on US consumers. The competition from Chinese manufacturers and their cheap products are pushing Mexico to focus more on ideas concerning not only how to do things but also what to do first.
Salazar understands innovation as a fundamental part of business activity. As such, he believes that entrepreneurs are crucial to the economy and society as a whole.
“Entrepreneurs are going to model the future of the world,” he says. “They are building the next generation of products and services for a very complex and challenging world.” Innovation is fundamental to the nature of entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship is about trying things and experimenting,” Salazar says, “and about failing many times.”
The idea that experimentation and failure are important echoes the work of graphic designer and computer scientist John Maeda. Maeda is the current president of the Rhode Island School of Design.
With his experience in technology, art and design, Maeda has actively participated in the development of ideas from a variety of viewpoint. Innovation consists of failure in a productive way, he believes.
“When you can fail productively, you can experiment, and it’s generally a good experiment,” he says.
The close relationship between entrepreneurial activity and innovation raises questions about which comes first: Do entrepreneurs adapt good ideas in response to market opportunities, or will the best innovations be motivated by market opportunities?
Maeda believes that our world has been too driven by the market and that this has led to unrealistic ideas. For Maeda, when undertaking an innovation process, we take into account the way in which artists think.
The artistic process is innovative by nature, since artists resort to trial and error until they reach some kind of compromise. They take risks that are essential in the generation of ideas.
“Regardless of age, all good innovative thinkers can be very playful,” he says. “They have managed to keep a part of the sould that is still creative. One of my favorite things is to children drawing, because at some point they tend to go crazy. They can draw a horse with 18 legs and 17 eyes, and in purple, and that’s great. But one day someone tells them: ‘That’s not the way to draw a horse: it must have four legs and two eyes and it’s never purple.’ At that moment, we have annulled imagination and let ourselves fall into the hands of the market.”