• Catherine Knowles

Louise Webster: Start your business this 2018, here's what you need to know


Louise Webster has more than 15 years' experience in innovation, strategic planning, market and channel development, as well as people management. In 2009 launched and developed the NZ Innovation Council (NZIC), where she grew the organisation to more than 4,000 members, and an interactive network that now reaches over 3.4 million people every year. After selling NZIC to global accounting firm KPMG, Louise is currently the General Manager of Tech Futures Lab.

We sat down with Louise to discuss why 2018 is a prime year to dive into your own business venture, and what you should keep in mind along the way.

“It’s easier than ever before to launch and start a business. The gaps and opportunities are more obvious, consumer needs are more identifiable, and we have greater access to technology and resources.

“Today, a massive opportunity exists to reinvent products and services for new and existing markets, and to apply emerging and disruptive technologies that are easier than ever to access, and to solve real life problems - both social and economic," she says.

So, what should you know before diving into starting your own business venture? Louise breaks it down.

Find something you’re passionate about and commit

According to Louise, launching a business is challenging and time consuming, but also extremely rewarding.

As such, she says, “Make sure you focus on something you’re passionate about because what you’re able to put into your business is measured against the personal value it holds. At the same time, while you must focus your business on a personal passion, you also have to ensure you’re developing a model that’s sustainable, economic and important to others.”

Make sure you’re solving a customer pain point

Louise says, “People tend to ignore the customer pain point - usually because they’re so passionate about the topic area they assume everyone is."

“In order to find success, you need to be solving an extreme customer pain point. And when I say extreme, I’m talking amputee, not just a cut on your finger,” she says.

According to Louise, “Your focus has to be something that has impact for many, and preferably at a global level. Do your research, engage with customers directly, and seek feedback from day one using open ended questions. Design thinking is an example of a good methodology for understanding customer empathy and engagement levels.”

Create, trial, iterate

Don’t wait to test your idea out in market, even if this is testing with small sample sizes, Louise says. This is crucial as it helps you to inform and develop your focus, and ensure you understand your market, and see where your product or service fits.

Louise says, “Research informs development; and testing, trialing and reiterating will inform your product or service, what platforms you want to use for internal and external collaboration, and the emerging and disruptive technologies that apply to your business. When your product or service is informed by customer feedback and is matched with market opportunity, you have a much greater chance of success.”

Talk to people about your idea, but remember - they’re not always right

“As you develop your idea, product or service, you need to talk to people. The more you talk to people the more you can hone your value proposition and what your business is all about," Louise says.

"In addition, you get feedback from, ideally, a variety of perspectives and get other people to articulate what you’re about. Often other people can articulate what you’re trying to do better than you can - it provides you with independent distance,” Louise says.

“The important thing is: don’t die with your idea. It’s just an idea. Innovation is not an idea, innovation is how you implement that idea or piece of creativity, and how you evolve and adapt it over time,” she says.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

You can’t do it all alone, Louise says. To start your own business you have to be okay with picking up the phone and asking for help. In addition, when you ask for help, be sure to tell your contact exactly what you're after, as this will help them to understand your vision and their place in it, she says.

“You’ll be surprised by how helpful people will be! But also be wary of their opinion or advice. Thank them, let them know how you implemented or ran with their input, and if they have advice don’t take it as gospel - at the end of the day it’s one person’s opinion,” says Louise.

Plan for your exit, create your processes now

Looking back at her experience with New Zealand Innovation Council, Louise says if she were to change anything it would be to plan her exist earlier. This would have made the team more disciplined in creating business processes that are repeatable and sustainable, she says.

“At the time, when you’re starting a business, it feels like more work to create systems and processes that are repeatable, but it’s worth doing. Create the process, use it and develop it. Essentially you’re bringing to development cycle into your business. Create, test, iterate,” she says.

Look for partners and collaborators

“Partnerships and collaborations, with other founders and other organisations, are becoming more important for those wanting to start their own business venture,” Louise says.

“Even your competitors could be your partners. Strong competitors in your sector that have a capability you don’t have could become strong commercial partners, and enable you to focus on one area you are particularly good at instead of trying to do everything.

“Look for partnerships where there is an even and equal value transfer. People assume they have to do all parts of development and service delivery themselves, and sometimes they have to specialise and deliver one part of a value chain, but this is absolutely not the case," Louise says.

Just do it, there's no time to lose

“Yes it’s really scary. It’s like waking up and jumping off a cliff everyday. But there is no certainty in life, and although it’s scary it’s wonderfully exhilarating at the same time.

“What drives me is a desire to make a big difference, to make an impact. When you’re working for someone else in a large organisation, it’s often quite hard to feel you have a voice. When you run your own business the change and impact you have is evident. You can directly see the impact you’re having on staff, on your sector, on your demographics," Louise says.

The Tech Futures Lab Master of Applied Practice - Technological Futures enables you to start your own venture, project or business with access to a robust network, strong support and a proven framework. To find out more click here or get in touch to come in and see us in person - coffee or wine on us!

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Tech Futures Lab is an education facility of The Mind Lab, a NZQA registered Tertiary Education Organisation under the provisions of the Education Act 1989. Candidates who are studying on a programme delivered by Tech Futures Lab are enrolled with The Mind Lab.