Be a savvy entrepreneur – Follow these 13 key forces to shape your path to 2015

Nothing is more depressing than sitting through pitch presentations thinking “I’ve seen this idea before.”

The entrepreneurial roadside is littered with passionate, yet flailing people trying to deliver on ideas that function more as “better mousetraps” rather than true breakthroughs. Entrepreneur brilliance usually starts from the question “wouldn’t it be great if we could…,” which then produces brilliantly executed answers brave enough to untap dramatic new value or unique benefit streams for their audiences.

Incrementalism is the enemy of the entrepreneur. So why does it happen so frequently with startups?

Perhaps it’s because we like to deal with the tangible because it can be cheaper, simpler and more defined in terms of the steps we need to go through. The problem is, in this connected, attention-starved world, unless you’re truly different and dynamic, it’s so tough for people to notice, get excited and advocate your “new and improved” thing (never mind proving that you are, in actual fact, better). It’s the intangible, “never heard of that before” that gets eyes widening and chins wagging.

The other reason startups go for bronze versus gold is that they react to today’s environment, failing to project what the world may be like two, three or five years from now. We’ve seen this happen repeatedly in the media, technology, entertainment and travel industries where radical shifts in value have happened by slow response to change. Tomorrow it will be the health care, education, energy, finance and public service industries affected by these fast-changing, marketplace dynamics.

There are two key takeaways:

  1. Innovation rarely comes from the established part of the industry you operate in – enlightened ideas usually come from identifying adjacent ideas in other categories and reapplying them to your own.
  2. The need for foresight, the ability to project what desires and needs your audience will have on the near-term horizon, as an entrepreneur’s essential sixth sense.

13 key meta-forces to help with foresight

To help on the foresight front, my research group has identified the 13 key meta-forces (these are the big, meaty, industry-shaping drivers that are even bigger than trends) that will affect an entrepreneur’s life over the next three years.

Avoid leveraging these and the evolution of  your “next big thing” at your peril:

  1. The customer experience – 95% of executives believe optimizing the customer experience is the new business battleground, and yet most customers are appalled by their pre-, during and post-purchase process. Augmented reality, business use of tablets, mobile customer experiences and voice activation are powering the future of friction-free awesomeness in the customer experience. Great customer experience-driven startups: Handshake, VitalHub and Vlingo.
  2. Entertainment – people now want their entertainment to be immersive. In 2015, that means it needs to be fun, casual, visual and social. Dual and tri-screen entertainment, gamification, video sophistication and social commerce are fueling our passions for new forms of lean-forward entertainment. Great entertainment-driven startups: GetGlue, Pinterest, Bunchball and Badgeville.
  3. Curation – although content may be king in a webbed-up universe, it’s also close to free. Online content is ubiquitous and very tough to monetize. The startups that are finding business success are able to mash up, rearrange, filter and beautify existing content into new, exciting and relevant forms. Great curation startup examples: Flipboard, Expensify, and MentorMob.
  4. Connection – whether you ascribe a good or bad personal value to it, our need for always-on connection rages on. We’re addicted to it. We want to be omni-connected, untethered and accessible 24/7 in smartphone culture. Great connection-driven startup examples: Munchly, Uber, nPower Peg and Evernote.
  5. Innovation – the pace of innovation is crushing. Software has improved. Hardware has improved. Products have improved. The exciting part of this new wave of innovation is that technology is allowing us to blur the line between virtual and real. Gesture recognition, the semantic web, design centricity, hybrid partnerships and social innovation are enabling exciting new stuff. Great innovation startup examples: sperho, Square, Shapeways and MindMixer.
  6. Speed – product cycles have halved in some industries from almost a decade ago. We want our tools and services to be faster, more responsive, provide simplicity out of chaos and be more predictive of the future. Chat customer service, foresight algorithms, live dashboards and real-time dynamic purchases are supporting our fast, faster, fastest lives. Great speed-driven startup examples: Vee24, Kaggle and Decide.
  7. Efficiency – startups, more than any organization, face the challenge of trying to prove they can do more things for less. We need real-time, action-driven and almost effortless interaction with our technologies. Smart metering, voice recognition, big data filtering and more sophisticated conversion tracking will enable our drive for efficiency. Great efficiency-driven startup examples: waze, Cataphora and Skymeter.
  8. Freedom – in every arena of life, people want more options, less encumbrances and wider flexibility. Business and technology is not immune from this need. Mobile money, ubi-retail, health empowerment and maximizing self-potential are new manifestations of this core instinct. Great freedom-driven startup examples: Loosecubes, Dwolla, DailyFeats and Withings.
  9. Customization – Burger King used to promise “have it your way;” now, in no uncertain terms, we want it: where we want it, how we want it, when we want it, now! Geo-location personal awareness, DIY education, bio-metric authentication and behavioural customer segmentation all fit this push. Great customization startup examples: Skillshare, Infectious, TaskRabbit and Fabric on Demand.
  10. Collaboration – true collaboration is starting to mature as a concept. Whereas it may have been a novelty five-10 years ago, startups are now starting to solve real problems and impact lives through connecting technologies. Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, crowdsharing, and group plug-and-play models are all popping up. Great collaboration startup examples: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Prosper and Dropbox.
  11. Authenticity – in a survey I conducted in 2011, what surprised me most was that business finally recognized the real reason to immerse themselves in new, connected media was to have a genuine and transparent relationship with their customers. Shocking, but we are starting to get this new world. Generosity, storytelling, company-wide transparency and charitable extensions are making business now appear more human – it’s a good thing. Great authenticity-driven startup examples: FreshBooks, WattpadGamesThatGive, CharitySub and The Giving Pledge.
  12. Value – in a static, zero-sum economy, businesses and consumers are looking to get the same benefits for less money. We want leaner and more flexible solutions from our startups. Smaller everything, cloud computing, deal sites, and tapping digital influencer credibility and underutilized assets are signs of our collective drive for value. Great value-driven startup examples:  Klout, Simple, and airbnb.
  13. Globalization – in a recent startup genome analysis, cities on all continents were ranked among the top 25 urban startup ecosystems, with 15 of those cities outside North America. The innovation world is border-free and heading east.  Global wealth shifts, premium Chinese brands, cleantech financing, scalable entrepreneurship and tech incubator satellite hubs are on your doorstep – are you ready for this new tide? For evidence of globalization of startup culture, check out the 36 cities represented in TNW’s Startup World.

Please add to the list. Any great startup examples that support these 13 future-shaping forces? Add them and we’ll go deeper on each one of these areas in the future.