When you think of big brands like Starbucks, Google and Apple, that are so big, and part of the wallpaper of consumer culture, you forget that they weren't always this way, and started life as a humble start-up.
But if they were starting up today, what would set them apart from the hundreds, indeed thousands of other start-ups that emerge, and unfortunately, fail? They have a common thread, not just in terms of innovation but for providing solutions people want to be part of. They teach and delight and apply innovation so people want to embrace it. That's the blueprint for any start-up, regardless of industry.
No one starts a start-up to stay a start-up, but the step between innovation and investment is the undoing of many promising emerging businesses, especially in the tech landscape. I've been in the business for 18 years, investing time (and more!) in up-and-coming businesses and I've seen start-ups make it big and many more fall by the wayside, and I've seen recurrent themes in both.
Problem solving is at the root of successful start-ups, but I think too many fail because they are solving the wrong problems - they expect the world to change everything it does for one new widget. The key to longevity is integration, slotting innovation in to existing workflows. It's called 'mental plasticity' - the ability to be flexible enough to know if you have to change to be what the world really needs.
For me, this means wrapping yourself around your customer's problems - that's how VideoHub's eQ™ system came about. The eQ score looks at where a video ad is on the page, the size of a player and the length of time that someone watches, applying a score between 0-100 to help brands understand if consumers are seeing their messages in a quality environment. We were responding to a genuine need for quality testing in the industry and filled a useful gap in the market.
It's about being ruthless and realistic about what you can offer and above all, understanding what the market really wants. The current buzz subject is big data and I think smart analytics is a huge growth area, ripe for innovation.
But things have to be practical, and to be successful, you have to solve a problem that actually exists. Lots of flashy things happen in the world of tech start-ups, but the Internet is past the point of flash over substance and technology for the sake of technology. Practicality over showiness is one of the things I was looking for when judging this year's Festival of Media Global 2013 Media Accelerator Programme (M.A.P), a scheme that brings the most game-changing new media companies to the attention of CMOs, advertisers and agencies and names one 'Hot Company of the Year'.
Future Ad Labs won M.A.P this year with their 'Play Captcha', a product that replaces traditional 'captcha' verification codes with branded mini games. It triumphed because it is such a simple but ingenious idea. They took something necessary and added real value - for the people using the sites who get to play a fun game instead of fill in a tedious captcha, the brands who get a platform and engaged users and the websites who can earn for something they have to use anyway.
My advice if you want to succeed as an entrepeneur? Be honest. About what you can do and what the market really needs. The world will not change what it does for you, but you will have to change what you do for the world!
Anthony Risicato was a judge for The Festival of Media Global 2013 Media Accelerator Programme (M.A.P), designed to match innovative new-media companies to the most senior decision-makers in global marketing and media and giving entering companies the opportunity to be assessed by a panel of leading international VCs and marketers. His company, VideoHub, won 'Hot Company of the Year' in 2012. The Festival of Media Global is the only event dedicated to the $500bn media industry and took place 28th-30th April in Montreux, Switzerland.