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[Originally appeared on LinkedIn] I think back more than a decade to the moment when I thought it was a good idea to start an online business. There are some things I really wish I had known as I set out. Although one mentor said to me years ago, “the greater the loss the bigger the lesson,” there comes a point if the business lessons get too expensive – and, well, then it’s all over!

1) It’s never just the good idea

This is the very first moment when you think it is ‘a good idea to run your own show’; you have read of these entrepreneurial heroes who create amazing ‘overnight’ success stories – and you think, “I could do that”.

All you need now is that idea – which will make the business simply slip into place and you are on your road to Nirvana. Ah, what a lovely dream. Sorry to bring you down to earth: businesses are 1 per cent idea and 99 per cent execution. You do still that bright, shining idea though – without it you only have hard work.

2) Don’t ask, “Will it work?” Ask, “Do I want it to?”

I’m approached regularly by people wanting to share a new business idea with me. They ask earnestly, “Will it work?” My response to all these queries is always the same: “Why do you want to do it?”

Working out “why” you want to start a business (let alone keep running it for a good proportion of your adult life) is essential to sustaining you, and ultimately, the success of the enterprise.

3) It’s not about the money

If you are driven solely by financial success in business, think again. Great businesses solve a problem; they make life ‘easier’ – they do things that have not been done before. They make a difference to other human beings. You could argue that great businesses make the world a better place.

I have only just come across the work of John Mackey – Concious Capitalism: Creating a New Paradign for business and Raj Sisodia Firms of Endearment. I have been putting into practice what they talk about for years – and it works.

All of the great start-ups that you can think of solve a problem. Facebook was about keeping college students connected. Google was about making the worlds information accessible. And think of the number of problems Apple has solved.

So the first step on creating a viable business is to work out what problem you are solving, simply asking ‘what is your purpose’.

It is far easier to create an enterprise when you are really clear about it’s noble purpose. I just happened along our purpose after listening to the impact was having on customers – when they told us about what it meant to them to go on a RedBalloon experience as a result: We believe every one deserves to have fun, feel good and be happy! We are passionate about giving people more good times.

RedBalloon was not the first business idea I had – but as I look back now I realize that of all the ideas I had, it was the one that inspired me, that I was passionate about, that I could see myself making a difference with. As I learned later when I did a Harvard Business course, the idea was a ‘disruptive’ innovation. It brought a new product to an existing marketing delivering it cheaply and quickly – and the incumbent dominant gift retailers would not have noticed us on the horizon coming to market.

If I was to pose a question for you to think about: why do you do what you do – and who will give a damn? Are you building a better mousetrap or are you changing the game of rodent management?

Below our noble purpose show reel.

Reader Interactions


  1. Wow! Such an amazing showreel, I felt quite tearful… awesome achievement, well done!!

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