Innovation is the Cornerstone of Entrepreneurship
Hi there folks, my name is Kevin Fessenden and I am one of the founders of ConsultantTree. I feel it's necessary to give you a little bit of background on me and my professional life. As of this writing I am 27 years old. I live in Milford Ohio which is just east of Cincinnati where I recently bought my first house with earnings entirely from my consultancy business. I'm unmarried, loving life, and loving my career and where it's headed.
I started up my first business, UnitedWare LLC when I was 19 years old- I was a student at Miami University in Ohio and Anish Mistry, my business partner attended Ohio State. It was definitely difficult starting up a business at that age, and many many doors slammed in our faces early on. I believe to this day that our main problem was that we were trying to avoid the one thing that made us different. We were trying too hard to be like the "professionals"- the 20+ year industry experience consultants that wore suits and carried around laptop bags in the airport..frankly, they were intimidating and we wanted to be them somethin' fierce. The problem is that we weren't them. And we were never going to be. But that's what made us different, that's what made us stand out in the crowd. We were trying to dissolve the one element in our makeup that would give us the most attention.
Once we learned to embrace this fact, everything changed for us. We wrote up articles talking about how we were students starting up a business and newspapers picked up the story, we used marketing methods that college students would use, we told everyone and anyone that we were young and cheap.....and we quickly realized that there was a market for us. Not only that, a big one. And in case you're wondering, it turns out being "cheap" in the consultancy world still pays a whole lot better than many, many entry-level industry jobs. We were happy to be "cheap", especially when the expectation is $100-200/hour.
But the key here is we had to innovate. At the heart of every business is some sort of innovation. What is innovation? Let's consult dictionary.com: "The act of introducing something new". Well this wasn't too hard for us, we ourselves were an innovation. We were something new that folks had not seen before. And that is why we were able to succeed. The takeaway here is embrace what makes you different. There's a lot of noise in the business world and companies want to know in 10 words or less what sets you apart from the other guys. Keep in mind that consultancies are essentially in the business of selling people. If you are a person that is intelligent, friendly, high-energy, motivated, hard-working, etc. then you will be able to sell yourself no matter how old you are and no matter how much experience you have, I truly believe that. Technology is changing rapidly and at some point we are all novices- but great people skills cannot be taught. They can be developed over time and even that only goes so far.
Now I'm skewing my commentary to consultancy companies since that is the area I started in but this same principle goes for companies developing software products or some other service. Actually in this realm innovation becomes even more of a key. Even more noise here and it's even harder to prove that you are noteworthy. I recommend starting in a small consumer niche and building from there if you are going this route.
The key here is to make innovation a frame of mind, a way of living. A good way to do that is to surround yourself with innovation and to constantly be looking for the need in everyday life. Carry around a pad of paper and pen (something small enough to fit in your pocket so you can keep up with it) and be jotting down notes of things that annoy you. Listen to the Killer Innovations podcast by Phil McKinney. He is an innovative genius at HP and a really insightful guy who can help you build your creative brain muscle.
As students in this era we are surrounded by innovation- the cell phones in our pockets, the flat screens we watch, the appliances we take for granted- all come from someone who thought "outside the box" (although I hate that expression, it fits). The transfer of information is so free and open these days that it's easier than ever to find out what annoys people and what would be a cool way to solve it. This environment is an innovator's dream. In addition, as students you have access to a campus full of your peers...never in your life again will you have free access to such a wide variety of folks in your same buying demographic. Use that advantage. Create a campus survey pitching a product or service idea. Toss around ideas with the guy who sits next to you in Stats....whatever, it takes. Just use your resources, and other people are among the best.
So that's a little bit on innovation and it's importance. I will probably discuss this concept more in future postings, but that's all I have for now. I'm watching the Colts get creamed by Chicago and it's cracking me up. Guess I can't laugh too hard though- my Bengals had a most disappointing debut against the Ravens today. Tough times to be a sports fan in Cincinnati!