By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
The Internet is empowering people to innovate and create new ventures.
But where exactly does innovation come from? That’s the question Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, posed to a panel of “disruptioneers” during the closing keynote address at Dell World.
Innovation mostly started in the U.S and then copycats would follow, said Linda Rottenberg, CEO and Co-founder of Endeavor. But that’s starting to change as more young people have Internet-enabled mobile devices.
“The first wave of innovations are going to start coming from the emerging developing world,” she said
Sixteen years ago when Rottenberg had her idea for a high-impact global entrepreneur program, few took her seriously. She started in Latin America, and she was known for years as “La Chica Loca.”
Today, she runs Endeavor, which operates in 20 countries on five continents and its entrepreneurs will generate revenue of $7 billion and create a quarter million of jobs, she said.
Job creation will come from disrupting traditional industries like healthcare, education, retail and manufacturing, Rottenberg said.
“Technology is the enabler, but I think we have to stop assuming that entrepreneurship equals creating the next Snapchat,” Rottenberg said.
Also, the next big thing doesn’t have to be born in a garage in Silicon Valley. It can just as easily come from Mexico, Brazil or Argentina.
“The world is now in an entrepreneurial age and we need innovation to come from everywhere,” she said.
The Internet Levels the Playing Field for Entrepreneurs
Online resources are a great place to start to research a new ventures and learn from how others have done it, said Miki Agrawal, a serial social entrepreneur and author of Do Cool Shit.
The Internet has leveled the playing field for entrepreneurs, said Jared Geller, producer at hitRECord. With YouTube or Spotify, artists can reach an audience.
“One of the things that I think is exciting right now is it’s a great time for artists to create,” Geller said. “They can create a business model that is unique to them.”
Another panelist, Chris Anderson, former editor and chief of Wired magazine, said he’s an example of that.
“A year ago I was the editor of a magazine and now I run a Tijuana drone factory,” said Anderson, who co-founded 3D Robotics.
His co-founder for 3D Robotics was a 20-year-old kid just out of high school, Jodi Munoz, working in Tijuana. While Anderson kept his day job, Munoz built a factory and an engineering operation and a robotic production line by buying stuff on eBay and reading manuals on Google.
“If a 20 year old high school student in Tijuana can build a 21st century aerospace company in two years, anybody can do anything,” Anderson said.
One of Rottenberg’s favorite entrepreneurial success stories is about a Leila Velez, who came from the slums of Rio de Janeiro and worked as a cashier at McDonalds. Velez wanted to create hair products for women with curly hair.
“She had this idea that poor people should be able to feel beautiful too,” Rottenberg said.
Working with Endeavor, she created Belleza Natural, which now has $80 million in sales and employs 1,500 people.
“People say if Leila can do it, I can too,” Rottenberg said.
Big Barrier to Being an Entrepreneur is the Mind
The biggest barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship are not structural or cultural or financial, they are psychological, said Rottenberg.
“I always tell people if you want to be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to think like an entrepreneur,” she said. “Crazy is a compliment and that chaos is your friend.”
Agrawal created a restaurant without knowing anything about the industry except that most restaurants close in the first year. She founded WILD, a farm-to-table, alternative pizza place in New York. She raised money through crowdsourcing and social media.
Then she started a children’s media company without any experience and founded a woman’s underwear company called Thinx through Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and raised more than $100,000 in startup funds.
“All of these businesses I started and co-founded I had no clue what I was doing when I first started,” Agrawal said. “I had no experience with any of them.”
But through tools like Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and crowdfunding sites she was able to figure out how to make it happen, she said.
“I love this theme it comes up time and time again,” said Ohanian.
The people on stage don’t have life all figured out, he said. Life isn’t a color by number set, he said.
“We’re all just hacking it,” Ohanian said. “I’d like to think this century will be one that is made, not managed.”
The Maker Movement
Anderson, who wrote the book Makers, said his grandfather was an inventor and made the automatic sprinkler system. At that time there were two huge barriers to entry: going from idea to prototype and then going from prototype to product, he said. Today, with 3D Printers, it’s easy to go from prototype to product and IndieGoGo can provide the pre-sales and money to make it happen.
Entrepreneurship isn’t a solo sport, said Rottenberg. It’s about building a community and building support, she said.
“Mentorship is so key to enable you to think bigger,” she said.
It’s called DYI, Do It Yourself, but it really should be called DYT, Do It Together, said Anderson.
Think about all the people noodling around in their own garages or bedrooms on ideas, he said. When they collaborate with others, it can ratchet up their research and development process and accelerate their inventions, he said.
“Is it really as simple as if you are any way interested, go try it?” Ohanian asked the panel.
Absolutely yes, said Agrawal.
“Having a mission or purpose behind your company makes it that much easier,” she said.
After visiting Africa, she created Thinx, stain resistant, leak resistant underwear for women and girls. She learned that girls often miss school and drop out because of their periods. So she created underwear with washable pads that would allow them to attend school during the week of their period.
Surround Yourself with Positive, Supportive People
Naysayers can also be a drag on entrepreneurs, said Agrawal.
Entrepreneurs need to spend time with people who support their new ideas, she said.
The key to success as a startup entrepreneur is to build a community, Anderson said.
“With a community you don’t go out and hire the smartest people in the world, what you do is build a place that attracts them to come to you,” he said. “You create this project and if they believe in it, they will contribute, and they will contribute for free and they will contribute lots of hours and great skills.”
The panel also spoke about learning from failure. Anderson started a mobile gaming company in 1999 that was too early to market. Rottenberg tried to launch in India, but couldn’t make it work. Agrawal had to close her restaurant after six years because of a slump in business due to construction. Geller said because he deals with art, it’s never really finished.
Ohanian, quoting a coach, said failure shouldn’t linger on the minds of entrepreneurs. It’s like a football game, if they lose on Sunday, it’s history by Monday, he said.