Business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs, we’re a resilient lot aren’t we? I certainly thought I was, with a thriving inbound travel and tourism company bringing foreign tourists to our shores year in year out.
Who could have guessed that in the space of a few short weeks in March 2020, entire industries would grind to a halt?
The advent of the pandemic hit travel and tourism particularly hard.
Without travellers, we had no business. Overnight we were scrambling for survival. Long, painful days, stretched into weeks and then months. With borders firmly shut, we were dead in the water.
Something had to be done.
Faced with business uncertainty and with the prospects of a return to normal dwindling by the day, I turned my attention to coming up with new ideas to serve our customers and create valuable and memorable experiences even though physical travel was not possible.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Well I can certainly agree wholeheartedly with that one!
In over 15 years of business, I had never given much thought to innovation.
Of course, we had applied improvement and incremental automation throughout our journey but nothing that could be considered ground breaking.
Faced with the decimation of the travel industry, we got to work trying to come up with a new way to deliver our core ‘products’ to customers. In the process, we came up with City Emulator – a new and innovative concept tying virtual and augmented reality with our keen sense of what makes a travel experience truly memorable.
In the journey to innovate, I was introduced to a whole new industry and to people, services and a whole sub-culture that I would never have known had I not taken that decision to innovate.
Now, as we prepare to launch our prototype, we have keen interest from development fund agencies and recognition from the Creative Industries Council as a ‘CreaTech one to watch’.
So here are a few lessons that I wish I had known earlier on in my business journey:
Resilience – This is a key attribute that I find exists in most founders and entrepreneurial types. Without it, you’d be struggling to come up with the spark of an idea that might just change your life. Resilience is a quality that needs to be nurtured and strengthened. If you have it already then acknowledge that this is a worthy trait. It’s one that will help you endure the most challenging of times and fuel your fledgling ideas towards success.
Have faith in yourself – Without an abiding sense of your own worth, creativity, skill, sheer determination and grit, you will find the journey like being on a rollercoaster without a safety belt! Having experienced some success in building my business from scratch, I knew that I had something deep inside that I could call on when faced with a set of challenging situations.
It’s not uncommon to second guess yourself and some healthy self-scrutiny is important. But if you have the ingredients for success inside you, then trust that instinct as you embark on discovering and developing something new.
The value of your network – I’m a keen networker and love to meet new people. Throughout my life, there have been many people who I’ve found interesting but, at the time, couldn’t make a deal or connection work. I have learned that these are never wasted. As I embarked on my new innovation project, several contacts from five or six years ago are now very relevant and helping me in a mutually beneficial arrangement. The lesson is: don’t underestimate the connections you make. They can be very helpful at times you may not initially foresee. In this regard, the CBI’s SME council has been instrumental in my own connections with a variety of interesting and relevant contacts.
Never under estimate the power of having a business coach or mentor either. A well experienced coach can encourage you to think laterally and nudge you out of your comfort zone. What got me to my success over 15 years was not necessarily going to help me this time, when faced with completely new and uncharted market conditions.
Lastly, don't undervalue your instincts. By following my own inner guidance or gut feelings I have found that unexpected and new opportunities have opened that I had no idea about at the start of the project.
Knowing what I know now, if I could turn back time, I would have invested in R&D and innovation thinking much earlier in my business. The opportunities for incremental revenue, development of new and unforeseen markets, coupled with the excitement of bringing something fresh and ground breaking are rewards that are worth the time, effort and cost.