Bringing a revolutionary idea to life

Birth2This month will see the launch of ground-breaking communication technology that will open up a whole new era of global possibilities for smart phone and tablet apps.

The functionality and quality of the product is jaw-droppingly impressive. And the market for this new technology is immense. But for me, this story is as much about the imagination and  perseverance of the people behind the product’s creation.



What is so inspiring and telling is the fact that a Yorkshire entrepreneurial duo came up with a highly innovative idea, developed it over 18 months and now stand on the edge of revolutionising how billions of people receive, interpret and share information.

Remarkably, neither of the two individuals has ever worked in a large corporation and only one possesses real technological expertise. And the idea for the product came about as a result of another conversation (read: Start now and value the journey) and throughout the R&D uncertainty and risk were constant companions.

Highs and lows

Over the last 18 months I’ve been fortunate enough to share some of the highs and lows of their enterprising journey. Concepts have been developed and ditched; trips to the extended development team in Hyderabad have been numerous but not always straightforward; securing investment was critical but far from easy; and persuading potential clients to view prototypes reinforced their belief in the product but absorbed immense amounts of time.

But when I met with the two entrepreneurs (James and Chris) in a quiet local pub earlier this month they showed me the first product that’s due for release by the end of May. My head was left spinning at the quality of their work and the implications for the technology’s use. I also quizzed them about market sectors and clients they could approach.

Creating demand

Over the next 5 minutes both James and Chris reeled off brand-leaders in the sport, media and tourism industries with whom they were already talking or actually about to work. Doors it seemed were being opened for them. Their technology was in high demand on a global scale before the product was launched.

So I asked James whether it was time now to sit back and let the orders pour in.

“I wish it was,” he replied with a nervous smile. “The hard work is going to continue for a long time before I buy my first Sunseeker. We have some amazing clients lined up – in lots of different sectors, but rapid scaling up of our business to handle our anticipated growth is part of the challenge – and the fun!”

Back to the future technology

So what is their revolutionary idea and why is it going to make such a big impact?

Real people (or characters) are placed in augmented reality presentations that educate, inform and entertain viewers. Using your smart phone or tablet, static images appear and then are suddenly brought to life. Critically, your device automatically recognises the environment you are in – thus making the image highly authentic and believable.

The opportunities for this technology across industries are far-reaching. For example: Adverts will jump to life off the page or billboard; Kids anywhere in the world will watch their favourite footballers perform tricks in their own home; Museums and tourism attractions will interact far more with visitors (at a fraction of the cost of using actors); And then there’s the construction, military and transport industries and of course, education!

And for home use just imagine the possibilities for sharing augmented reality pictures and video. Instead of being in a 2D photograph standing next to a poster of your favourite music celeb or sports star, you’re now in a short movie with your idol who’s showing off their skills; and you’ve captured this footage in your own bedroom and then posted it on-line or sent it to your friends. How cool will that be?!

Back to earth

The company’s first apps include the official Guide to the City of York, an award winning museum, Rangers FC and their own brand ZooMob, which brings real wild animals into the home, school or elsewhere – and lets you take photographs of your friends and family with lions, tigers and bears amongst other exotic creatures.

I asked the two entrepreneurs how they had come to think up and invent such a radically new concept and Chris replied; “By starting out and asking ourselves what people might want from smartphones and then working out how to make it happen. We didn’t know much about phone apps when we began but, as Albert Einstein observed: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’”.

Key Learning Points: Technology offers widespread opportunities and there’s probably never been a better time ever to bring ideas to life. The powerful combination of imagination, talent, commitment and hard-work can have stunning results.

Get the free York tourism hologram app here:

How to find new ideas to start & grow a business

If you read last month’s ‘How to Profit from the Alternative Rhythms of Time‘, you’ll be aware I recommended the ‘Springwise‘ website. It’s the place to get your daily fix of innovative and entrepreneurial ideas.

It’s a brilliant site. You can sign up to receive daily news, browse thousands of new ideas (all carefully split into distinct sectors) and even submit your own proposal as a business start-up. Just a few hours of research should pay real dividends and will also connect you with a new community of like-minded people.

The power of Social Media

Like many new finds, I discovered Springwise through Twitter. This now famous social media channel is a rich source of new ideas and information. For me, Twitter is great for promotion, but it’s even better for discovering things because you quickly find yourself in places you never even knew existed.

For the record, other websites providing ideas, inspiration and advice include and One of the things I liked about Smarta is the advice on the Home page which emphasises the need to be market focused when starting a new business.

Why didn’t I think of that?

When reviewing the recommended ‘idea sources’ don’t be put off by the apparent brilliance of others or believe that you don’t have the skills to think in such an innovative way.

By the time any of us leave full time education, we’ve typically grown accustomed to a linear/vertical way of thinking. This is because we learn subjects in silos. As such, thinking across subjects (horizontal), making new connections and seeing new ideas does not necessarily come easy. However, things can improve if this thinking flaw is understood and you’re prepared to look for inspiration or undertake basic research in less familiar places.

Apple founder Steve Jobs is perhaps one of the greatest ‘idea minds’ that has ever lived. Whilst he dropped out of Reed College as a teenager, he hung around the campus in Portland. He then chose to drop into lessons that appealed to him and his way of thinking. In the highly readable official biography and address to Stanford University he talks about this part of his life and in particular his attendance at a Calligraphy course – just because it fascinated him. Years later, what he learnt about Calligraphy and fonts became a cornerstone of the Apple Mac revolution.

By looking around and seeing links between subjects, Steve Jobs saw opportunities, new ideas and thus gaps in the market. Jobs looked for the ‘intersection’ of subjects. For example, when PCs were mass produced in ugly metal boxes he recognised the need for something different. He saw the opportunity to intertwine technology and the liberal arts and beautiful computers resulted. Later, with iTunes, he fused music with technology.

Ideas through people

Meeting and networking with people is often a great way to source/nurture new ideas. A group of individuals (with different talents) that works well together is able to look at an issue from more than one perspective and can then harvest and refine ideas more quickly. It’s of little surprise that many new team-based businesses are seeded in university or college life.

In fact education is like hitchhiking in that it provides an opportunity to meet new people from all kinds of different backgrounds. For me, travelling for over 10 years as a hitchhiker made it possible to learn from so many different perspectives. Critically, it helped me to understand that my take on an issue or way of seeing the world was often only shared by a minority.

Tip! Just because you might think an idea is good, share and test it with others before you put too much energy and time into it.

The whole subject of how and where ideas are developed will continue to fascinate me. Only last week a lecturer from the University of Bristol recommended that I buy the book ‘Where good ideas come from‘ by Steven Johnson. So I did.

Whilst I’ve not yet finished it yet, it’s a great read because it examines the intersection of subjects and explores how environments influence innovation. Doubtless I will review it in full soon on this blog, but if you want a taste of what Stephen is saying, have a look at him explaining his thinking on this TED film.

Key Learning Points: Use freely available sources to nurture thinking and develop new ideas. Explore different perspectives, use lateral thinking and meet people. Look for the intersection between subjects for real business opportunities.    

Travel: The catalyst for great Ideas…

It didn’t take long, about 2 hours in another country and I saw it…

Surprising how a bit of cloth surrounded by elastic grabs your attention. But as I was being driven from Johannesburg airport to my accommodation in the suburbs early that beautiful morning in May 2010, I was taken with something I had never seen before.

There on the wing mirrors of almost every other car I saw were ‘gloves’. Gloves?

Yes, but they were no ordinary gloves. The elasticated gloves tightly surrounded the rear of the driver and passenger mirrors and displayed the South African flag in full colour. 

The gloves were far more elegant than the flags waving from cars we have become accustomed to in the UK – although admittedly there were an abundance of these too.

World Cup football fever had created a simple but highly innovative idea.

My point: I’ve never seen these mirror gloves in the UK yet they would probably sell just as well as they did in South Africa. And then there’s all the other countries.

When travel is combined with the freedom to think, innovative & entrepreneurial thoughts flow far more freely than sitting in a room with a blank piece of paper. The late Anita Roddick built her Body Shop Empire after returning from her travels abroad (recommend her autobiography ‘Body & Soul’).

Of course hitchhiking is all about travel but crucially it adds that vital third dimension of meeting different people who provide both original ideas and objective feedback – all for free!

Since I made a point of asking questions and listening to answers, people who picked me up would often tell me about problems and difficulties they were facing in their work or personal life. Sometimes in incredible detail. Even as I write, I am toying with the idea of hitchhiking around the UK for a week just to meet others and learn about their lives; because the seeds of new ideas exist within the problems they talk about.

So, if you’re ambitious but a little short on great ideas, how about combining travel and research? You don’t have to hitchhike but the more you can engage with new surroundings the more information you will uncover. If you remain open-minded and wait for the ideas to flow you will undoubtedly be able to apply the appropriate entrepreneurial twist .

Key Learning Points: Travel broadens the mind. Discover and research new ideas by seeing new places and meeting new people. Applying a successful idea that is already being used in another country can significantly reduce the business risk too.

Jump the job queue: Free is the way

Frustrated, annoyed and angry are just three of the more polite descriptions for how I feel when I see waste.

Whether it’s a plate of half eaten good food or a quango created to check a tax dependant public body – in my opinion it’s senseless and myopic waste.

A shrink might say my take on waste led me to hitch hiking. No unnecessary money was spent and my carbon zero approach to travel left the ozone layer none the worse. That said, I was often skint – so don’t think I was some kind of evangelical environmentalist seeking a better world. I wasn’t that bright.

Respect time & money

Like hitchhiking, entrepreneurs quickly recognise that time and money must be treated respectfully and cannot be thoughtlessly wasted. Pennies and minutes really matter and if mistreated will kick the abuser hard sometime later. But orders rarely walk in the door and therefore decisions about spending money and time, so that work is won, need to be made all the time.

In this economy, entrepreneurs have had to develop more innovative and creative methods in order to find and secure income, orders and sales. One clear development is the array of free offers that are now available. Just look at digital applications. How many are not charged for in the hope that the prospect will test and subsequently pay for something later? This approach is far less wasteful than mass marketing and seemingly involves both customer and supplier in the building of a better and more sustainable relationship.

So what can the entrepreneur teach the job hunter?

If you are seeking work in these difficult economic times, you can benefit from the entrepreneur’s creativity and learn how to jump the job queue. So many people are sending out endless CVs and going to the job interviews (but without much success). If this is you, I suggest you put a stop to the expense and change your tactics.

Learn from Ivan Gonzalez

Ivan Gonzalez, a young Mexican man, lived in a cramped one bedroom flat in London with his wife. Keen to work in the pharmaceutical industry he wrote endless application letters, attended many recruitment fairs and secured a handful of interviews. But with thousands of people competing for the same space, and the economy in a nosedive, he never got a job – apart from being a poorly paid waiter working long shifts, often at an anti-social hour.

After a couple of months, Ivan reasoned he was probably wasting his time and money competing directly against other job hunters who might be better qualified or connected. So he stopped writing the letters and catching buses and trains; instead he found a new way to reach his employment goal.

Ivan researched small pharmaceutical companies on the internet and then wrote a personal letter to the boss (by email) offering his time for free for several weeks. It didn’t take long for one of his target employers to respond. Within a small space of time Ivan had thrown himself into work with a pharmaceutical research agency knowing that he had a short time to impress and build the necessary trust.

And the approach worked. Ivan was offered a full-time job by a highly satisfied employer who was delighted to find a hard working, entrepreneurial young man who he discovered would fit perfectly with the team. As a bonus, the employer hadn’t wasted any time in the recruitment process and certainly had not paid an agency a handsome fee to find Ivan.

More than ever, employers are seeking to take on people who demonstrate entrepreneurial thinking. If you can follow Ivan’s lead you’ll cut out waste, streamline your efforts and probably find the kind of job you are seeking, quicker than you think.

Key Learning Points: Don’t waste time & effort following the crowd and wasting money & time. Learn from the entrepreneur & offer work for ‘free’. This compelling price & approach gets you noticed. You’re attitude means you also more likely to be hired.