This is an interview with Richard Philpott, founder of TheInnovationExchange and MyGreatIdea as two platforms to enable open innovation. He talks about the underlying ideas and some of the challenges facing a start-up entrepreneur.
A transcript of the interview is below:
I: We’re very lucky today to have with us Richard Philpott who is an innovation consultant and founder of the Innovation Exchange.com. Richard has worked very much in the field of innovation for a long time and is particularly active now, trying to take advantage of some of the opportunities opened up by what we’ve been calling ‘open innovation’. So, Richard, first of all many thanks for talking with us. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the background to the work you’re doing, particularly with some of the internet-enabled platforms.
RP: Good morning and thank you for interviewing me for this new edition of your book. What I developed with a small team is a new web-based path for communicating open innovation ideas, needs, but also the professional who works in the innovation process.
I’ve developed two websites: one is called ‘The Innovation Exchange.com’ and that is targeted at medium to larger businesses, academia organisations. And, also, ‘My Great Idea.com’ was more targeted at a new range, at the public or the lone inventor, perhaps the man in his shed. The people that are full of creativity and don’t know how to do anything about it and need help. I’ve met so many of these people as I travel and some I’ve worked with in the past and they all say how lucky I am that I actually to help me turn my creativity into something useful.
Now, these two websites are connected by a common database, so the whole point is that we can, in a sense, connect the supply and demand of innovation needs and opportunities right the way across the marketplace. What I really wanted to do is build a common hub that actually not only linked all the players in the innovation pipeline, from the initial creativity all the way through to the marketplace, but as a multi-sector and also crossing the international boundary as well. It’s a big challenge, but I have felt in my work out there, supporting companies and individuals, that there is no one place where people can go to do this and to find connections and communicate with each other.
I: That sounds a very powerful idea and, of course, one which, particularly in the days of the web, becomes much more easy to enable. We’ve obviously, and you well know, had a situation where connections have always been important in innovation, but now we’ve got the chance to make them in very new and very extensive ways.
RP: Yes. If I can just comment, we know that there are a few offerings out there with open innovation. It tends to be more specialised, it tends to be more focusing at the corporate market. So, my whole thrust was that I felt that people were missing a trick, that they were missing connecting a whole spectrum from users and some very creative people out there that would never get connected. As you say, the web opportunities have really opened this up.
I: That’s a really interesting idea. I wonder if I could take you forward – imagine you’ve been stunningly successful, it’s doing more than you dreamed of, three years from now what does it look like and how is it enabling innovation?
RP: Well, I have to say that I didn’t do this because I had a ‘get rich quick’ plan. Of course, I’m a businessman; I want to be able to live in some way, but I did it because I realised that there was a big need out there. As you know, I’m very passionate about this. What will success look like in three, five years’ time? I would hope it would be on the way to having created what was, essentially, the eBay of open innovation; something that people are naturally gravitating to, that it’s an exciting, interesting place to go where you can really build what you want to and find the right things.
I: That’s a lovely image of ‘eBay for innovation’. Very nice. Richard, the book is very much around entrepreneurship and I wondered if you would comment a little bit about your own experiences as an entrepreneur. First of all, in terms of pulling this venture together or these ventures together, what are the things that have been important that have helped you get there?
RP: I’ve used the word ‘passion’ already and, clearly, that’s a vital ingredient. I had this idea burning in me for probably eight or nine years before I did something about it, but it was more of a social quest to help people realise opportunities in their creativity. Perhaps a negative fear is, I then needed to make my mind up to do something about it. What actually stimulated me, I spent the previous period working for UK government in Innovation and Knowledge Transfer and I realised how many businesses, especially small businesses had heard about innovation and open innovation, but they didn’t quite understand what it was about. Once they did, the next question was, ‘Where do I go to do it?’ That confirmed my thinking that there was this no one place.
So, coming back to answer your question, I probably could’ve started a bit earlier. Like you, I’m a reasonably technical person, but I think we’re well-trained to disprove our thinking before we do anything about it. I do that consciously all the time. So, getting going, getting started was very important. Self-belief – very important. A lot of people who are, maybe, people that don’t adopt ideas as quickly as other people will be seemingly negative or impassive about things. I think you’ve got to go with the flow, do a sanity check and understand that there is a market. But I think you can do too much in this area. I think the key thing was getting going, doing something about it.
I: That’s really helpful. I guess, then, having talked a little about some of the things that helped, can I also ask you to think about roadblocks? It’s not an easy road to travel, being an entrepreneur, but perhaps you could just reflect very briefly on where some of the more obvious roadblocks are that people might need to watch out for?
RP: Yes. In most of my career I’ve been fortunate to be doing innovation with other people’s money. So, this is the first time I was really challenging myself and putting myself on my own mettle. Resources have really been the key determinant of how I’ve progressed on this. At the time I started this I was setting up as an independent consultant and, therefore, my own cash flow was very important to me. I also have done a lot of work with investors, I know that investors are cautious about an untried opportunity like this and they don’t really get them unless they can build critical mass and momentum going that they can translate into a spreadsheet and profits and loss and value.
So, I decided there was no point trying to raise funds. So, I really had to self-finance this in my own time. Now, I needed partners, I needed web developers, not just web developers, but people that would develop quite smart relational databases as well. So, I wasn’t just looking for your ordinary internet developer. I also wanted my partners to be as passionate as me. You can’t always expect that, but you can occasionally find it. But a combination of having to trade their time for equity as opposed to cash, essentially caused a lot of compromises along the path. I’m talking now a year beyond where I would have liked to have been in as much as we’ve done a lot of testing and listened to feedback and we’re now putting the final version out there in the marketplace.
So, the reason I wanted to set the pace, my own time, because I had been obviously trying to bring in some bread for my family, and the quality of the people I found.
The first web developers came on board didn’t turn out to be what they were and I knew I could compromise in selecting them, because I wanted to get going, but I did part with them a year ago and I have since found an excellent new chap called Matt, who is probably now more passionate than me about the whole thing.
So, yes, resources affecting the quality of the resource, the timescale and the resource challenge is going to be on the market side, because, as usual, I’m marketing on a shoestring. So, I’m going to have to come back on back my own creativity to try and come up with some brilliant new ways of achieving that tipping point thing that we talk about.
I: We’re going to wish you all the very best with the venture. I guess one last question, if I could, Richard, you’ve been an innovation consultant for many years as well as now getting involved in your own ventures as well, if I were to ask you, and it’s a hard question, to distil your wisdom, all the things, the lessons you’ve learned about effective innovation management, if I were asking you just to name two or three key points, what might they be?
RP: Well, I think we all know the problem with getting something out of the innovation process normally starts in the early stages of selecting the right thing to work on. Many people have worked on trying to get through this bottleneck. Most organisations are not geared towards creativity. If they do find a creative
opportunity, understanding which of those candidates they should pick to score in the marketplace, is a difficult process. That’s where many mistakes or bad choices are made. Often, in hindsight, it’s impossible to make the right choice at the right time.
Regarding my own activity here, the difference is more passion, but, having been in many different companies, I’ve either managed myself or advised. I think that passion is at least 50% of it. I do believe that a heart-based idea will in fact go a lot further than others. If I can distil my one thought about this is go for it if you believe in it; just make sure that the traffic light is at least on amber. If it’s a strong red, then success is a dream, or if it’s a strong amber, then I’d have a go, but be prepared to bail out if it’s not looking that good. Once you get some critical mass going and other opportunities will start to roll off anyway. It’s about getting some momentum from which other opportunities come. As you can tell, I’m not the sort of person who sits around waiting for things to come. I think get a little log rolling, other logs start to roll.
I: That sounds wonderful. So, it’s very much about passion and that clearly comes across in your own venture. Richard, thank you very much for talking to us, really wish you the very best with the venture and thanks again.