Pursuing Your Dream? Think Like a Startup.


I teach a course at INSEAD twice per year on the art of commercializing technologies. For my recent spring class we focused on mobile app development and partnered with a local coding camp to bring the creative ideas to life. My MBAs formed teams of 4, imagined cool app ideas, and then worked with their coders to develop working prototypes over the course of a month.

mobile appsWe had 11 teams this past session; 11 innovative ideas ranging from home-cooked meals delivery to social meetups for tennis players to on-the-spot insurance for sports like scuba diving and skiing. All very cool stuff.

For me the business model underlying each apps was as important – more important, actually – then the concept itself. What pain are you solving and for whom; who are your enabling partners and killer competitors; how do you build awareness and what is your channel to market; and how do you make enough money to cover the costs?

An invited speaker to my class from Google emphasized the need of starting with a sound business model – one that will morph and evolve – before product launch. Having a cool idea is not nearly enough. Who cares about it, why, and how do they find you? The App Store? There are already over 2.2 million apps there. So, … how will they find you?

When considering your big life ambition – what I call an interprize – there is a lot to learn from startup modeling. What is your distinct value and who values it; who helps your dream come true and what are the inevitable challenges to overcome; how do you reveal your ambitions to others and generate enthusiasm; how do you cover the costs of pursuing your bold plans and is making money a priority? The key elements to identify are summarized in the following table:

interprize planning

Just as Step #1 in launching a startup begins with the business model, the first step in organizing your grand ambition needs to be an interprize model. Whether you dream of opening a café or art gallery, writing a novel, or creating a line of hand-painted greeting cards, a foundation of understanding and assumptions about your distinct value, offering, and markets has to be established and a solid implementation strategy created. (Working through these elements is core to the Life Leap Workshops I lead around Europe and in the US. For more info click here.)

So once your interprize model is baked in your good to go, right? Wrong. Almost assuredly your plan will be riddled with leaky assumptions that will be better understood only after launch. But that’s okay. No startup business model survives in its original form. Once the process of real validation begins the pivots and modifications are endless. Accept change and the chances of success with your passion project will be immeasurably stronger.

There is also the need for emotional and physical balance or you’ll quickly flame out. Happiness, wellness, fitness: these provide the stamina you’ll need to pursue your bold plans with gusto. But that’s the topic of another fabulous essay.

Good luck. Let’s get going!


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