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Steve Baty - Challenges of having the big idea and starting a business

Steve Baty who will be speaking at Xmedia Lab Sydney 8-10 June, gives us some ideas on the when, the why and the how to start a business. Steve is a Principal at Meld Studios, a Sydney-based design studio and President at IxDA, a global network dedicated to professional practice of interaction design.

innovation 1. When should you start a business?
The greatest asset at your disposal when starting a new business is your passion. So launch a business when you have a real passion for it. In the absence of passion, go talk to an accountant or economist, but I'm not sure that will really help you. Set aside expectations of an easy success; or a short ride to market domination. And if the prospect of difficult times, and set backs, and hard work don't turn you away from the idea, then you're probably well-placed to begin.

2. How do you turn a creative idea into a business?
You need to connect your concept with a gap or problem that customers will care enough about that they'll be willing to pay for it; and in great enough numbers that you'll have a sustainable business.

Take your idea out to potential customers and understand what elements of it they'd be willing to pay for; what they'd be excited about; what they'd tell their friends about. And don't be afraid to go back and refine your idea until the customer can provide an answer in each case.

3. Where do you find your inspiration for ideas?
The short answer is everywhere, but it's never that simple. Inspiration comes from making connections between a lot of different bits of information, and combining them in ways that aren't obvious, except in hindsight. There's a plethora of techniques you can use to help facilitate the formation of those connections, but mentally it equates to hard work. You need to push yourself to look at the world in different ways: how else can you expect to see new things?

One thing I will say: don't pay attention exclusively to the current market. The biggest opportunity for growth and disruption almost certainly lies in understanding those people who currently don't, won't or can't use your offering.

4. What feedback do you take and what do you disregard?
I'm not particularly interested in opinions. I generally disregard feedback that isn't backed up with a rationale, and a decent rationale at that. I like getting different perspectives, though, since that comes back to the notion of looking at the world differently. I'm interested in talking to people who see the world from a different viewpoint to my own - they are uniquely positioned to shed new light on the problem I'm trying to solve.

5. Who was the first person to believe in you?
Mum. I think I might have been 4.

6. What has been your biggest creative or business challenge to date?
Understanding the difference between a concept or idea and a particular implementation of that idea. I see a lot of organisations struggle with this daily, getting mired in the details before they've spent time exploring, testing and refining the concept. This amounts to a lot of wasted energy, and a final design that isn't hitting the mark.

If your 'big idea' isn't seeing the adoption or utilisation that you expected, chances are you didn't put enough time and energy into the concept.

7. What excites you most about digital media or technology right now?
I'm excited by the developments we've seen in processing power to the point where a small, handheld device can connect us to the world - physically and virtually - in a largely unencumbered and fluid way. But more than, I'm excited by the potential that flows from such freedom.

Moreso, we're starting to see the development of technologies in which our window into a device - the screen - is becoming divorced from the power, memory, and processing capability of that device. This dis-aggregation opens up a lot of opportunity for disruptive innovation in the form technology takes, as well as the ways in which it integrates into our day-to-day lives.

8. How do we encourage a culture of creativity and innovation?
There are so many facets to this, but I think a really critical one is to create an environment in which a lot of small, relatively low-cost, businesses can be conceived, designed, developed, launched, and evaluated, without an overly burdensome bureaucracy; with ready access to small-scale funding; access to spaces in which to conduct the business; and a supporting culture of "continuous learning" rather than "failure/success".

9. What do you believe is possible that many don't?
I believe Australia is on the cusp of a design-led innovation boom, impacting the way in which public policy, commercial, and social decisions are informed, made tangible, evaluated and brought to life.

10. What will you be talking about at X Media Lab in Sydney?
[I honestly don't know yet!, but...] How an understanding of the context within which customers, and non-customers, live their lives can provide rich grounds for innovation. Broadly, Souces of innovation.


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