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First Find Your Lightbulb

Advice, General September 30, 2008

First Find Your Lightbulb


Ever had a Eureka! moment when you’ve thought of an idea that could change the world? If so, and you’ve never taken it any further, read on to discover how you could turn your lightbulb into the Next Big Thing.

Mike Harris is used to having good ideas that ping on in his brain. He was founding CEO of First Direct, and also founded Egg – the first major UK player in internet banking. He’s currently Executive Chairman at Garlick, a web service allowing individuals to manage and protect their digital identities, but has found the time to write Find Your Lightbulb: How To Make Millions From Apparently Impossible Ideas, which takes a practical and inspirational look at how to turn your business dream into a reality.

‘I think the world if full of ideas,’ he says, ‘but people have them and then never do anything about them. This is probably for two reasons: people don’t know where to start; and secondly not everyone has the drive, the commitment and the stamina to make it happen.’


But, how can you tell if your idea is actually a good one? ‘Quite often people don’t recognise when they have had a good idea,’ explains Mike. ‘People spend a lot of money on ideas and so one of the things you have to consider is does the idea meet unmet consumer needs? There is a process you can use called customer insight which shows whether or not your idea meets a real need. So how do you rate just how good your idea is? You need to go out and talk to people about it. If 16 people are supportive, that seems to be an indication that it is a good idea. If you get no reaction from people that tends to mean the idea is too complicated and people don’t understand it, or that it is too simple and it is never going to change anything.’


Mike’s advice to graduates who don’t have experience of industry yet is to approach new ideas as consumers. ‘As consumers what product doesn’t exist that they would like to see exist and many of these products will be on the web. Take, for instance, Jamie Murray Wells, who founded Glasses Direct which he started when he was still a student. He asked himself, "why do glasses cost so much?" and then he thought of a way to deliver glasses that would be cheaper. Thinking as a consumer is the way many big entrepreneurial success stories have started.

‘Another place is internet technology. Think about the phenomenal rise of the social networking sites. Also the growth of the ethical market has seen some great ideas. Both rationally and emotionally the ethical sector just makes sense. These companies are seen to have integrity. I really like the company and concept of Innocent (fruit smoothies) because not only is it a great idea, it’s also a great product.’


So, once you’ve decided your idea is great, how do you go about getting the money to make it happen? ‘Never, ever go to banks for start up money,’ says Mike. ‘If you are designing a new product you need to go to the venture industry. A good place to start is with business angels (rich individuals who like to invest early in new ideas). Make sure you approach them in the right way; you want to ‘sell’ your idea in such a way that they go "wow, that’s different!" You will need a business plan but it doesn’t have to be that detailed. Be prepared to dilute your company, they will usually ask for ten per cent. The second route is what I call the bootstrap root – this is when people use their own money to invest in their idea, or money from friends and family and you spend what you can raise – although this method will probably take longer to bring your idea to fruition.

‘I’m touching wood as I’m saying this but paradoxically now is quite a good time to start with a new business idea as there is still a lot of cash around and people are still looking for new ideas so get your foot in the door now.’


Mike offers the following tips for all budding entrepreneurs: ‘Talk to as many people as possible and don’t get hooked on the idea as you initially conceive it because if it is going to be a success it will evolve. Don’t get bogged down by criticism. It’s not that you ignore criticism, but what you will find is the feedback you get will help you shape the idea. That means you really have to listen to what people are telling you and the more you talk about it the clearer what you need to do will become.

‘It’s also very important to express enthusiasm for your own idea and infect other people with that enthusiasm. You need to start up a network of interest in your idea. Listen very carefully to what people say and when you are ready do something, the best thing is to find a partner, because you can’t do it on your own, it is much better to do it in pairs. Venture capitalists are much more interested in pairs than individuals. The reason for that is you need to find someone whose skills and strengths compliment your own. Quite often that is one creative person and one practical person, or one marketing person and one technical person. Ultimately, you have to have belief. What you are looking for is someone who has the vision and then someone who can make it happen.’

Mike believes that sometime, somewhere in the next five years someone is going to have a great idea for greener energy. He himself never stops having ideas and acting on them. ‘I start thinking about my next great idea when I know the project I’m already working on is going to be successful,’ he explains. ‘I like creating something out of nothing and when it has got unstoppable momentum I don’t enjoy the process of managing the company, I enjoy creating.’

Find Your Lightbulb: How to make millions from apparently impossible ideas
by Mike Harris is available as a paperback original to buy now, £12.99 / €18.20. However, we have five copies to giveaway. Just send an email entitled Lightbulb ideas with your name and address to

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