I was provoked by a recent interview of mine for Bloomberg TV to start thinking around the subject of what’s really the key success factor for a startup business to thrive. There is a lot of noise in the startup world around “Founder-Investor”, “Product-Business Model” and other such “fits”, ”matches” that are claimed to be decisive for the success of a startup. I don’t dispute these. However, in my opinion, the “Idea-Founder” match is the only thing that matters at the end (literally, according to the terminal values theory). If the project you are working on as a founder does not match with your long-term goals and aspirations, then the odds are against you and your business.
I won’t conceptualize too much about this theory of mine. Though if I have to, I would say that my thoughts mostly fit with the theory of terminal values by the social psychologist Milton Rokeach. According to the theory, a terminal value (also known as an intrinsic value) is an ultimate goal, an end-in-itself in contrast to an instrumental value (also known as an extrinsic value) which is a mean-to-an-end, mere a tool in achieving the terminal value. In simple words, we all need to keep a close eye if our instrumental values are aligned to our terminal values. The success of a startup project can therefore be seen as instrumental to achieving our terminal values. if there’s a mismatch and one does not lead to the other, then chances for success might decrease, because the drive is not there.
During my 6-month stay in Riga, Latvia, I worked at the Riga Technical University on my research around OS.UNIVERSITY, world’s first University-led ICO campaign. At RTU, I published some great research that is now at the center of my book “Academia 4.0: University on the Blockchain”, worlds’ first (and only to that day) book on the application of blockchain technologies in education. The book is now available for free download (though this article is NOT about it, neither about the OS.UNIVERSITY project itself).
What this article is about, is a concept for a business that I developed during my time in the Baltics, something that I tend to do whenever I have some time off to enjoy life and the exciting opportunities it presents me with. One of these opportunities led me to a commercialization crash-course at the University of Latvia, organized by two-successful Latvian fellow-entrepreneurs that are behind Koatum, a Riga-based startup developing hybrid bioactive medical implant coating.
As part of the course, we were working around commercializing business ideas from within Academia. As OS.UNIVERSITY was way ahead in terms of concept development, already a year and a half into the making, it was not a suitable use-case for the course. Therefore I needed to come up with another project to work on. I needed something new and exciting enough to keep me engaged with the course as long as I wanted to dive into it. That’s how the idea for “LoCo Gifts” came to be (pitch deck linked below):
“LoCo Gifts” is a concept for a business around 3D printed souvenirs. It is looking at the Latvian market, but really, it can be implemented anywhere around the world. Why? Well, because even in a niche-market, such as Riga, there are plenty of opportunities. 2.3 million tourists visited Riga in 2016. 100 EUR were spent per tourist, per day, in the city. For the whole country of Latvia, this translates into 550+ million of euro in investments in the national economy, made by foreign tourists. If you add to that the fact that 1/5 of the budget of a UK tourist is spent on souvenirs, while at present there are no providers of a service of such kind, then the potential becomes clear for innovations in the field. If you like the idea about starting a business that requires little-to-no investments beyond marketing an online showcase, such as this one (on a free platform such as “BigCartel”), then go for it.
The details are important, though! I’ve tried to incorporate them in the brand itself: “LoCo” stands for “Local” and “Collective”. Meaning that you can crowdfund designs of local landmarks or symbols of historical/cultural significance, and distribute the proceedings towards to authors, according to the demand for each of the designs. It should be local (the approach, that is), as this is where the opportunity is. We have plenty of designs of the Eiffel Tower, or of the Empire State Building, but how many designs are there in the not-so-crowded, yet beautiful cities, towns, villages around the world? In Riga, a research returned one design on one of the many ”junk yard”-alike platforms, such as “Thingiverse“… In the same time, the name “LoCo Gifts” can also stand for “Low Cost”, given that you don’t need to stack piles of pre-ordered merchandise – it is an order-to-print business model. You can also franchise the brand to the actual souvenir shops throughout your city, or pivot towards the hardware side of the business by supplying them with 3D printers, supplies, support services. You can try the same with the local museums or public institutions. In the case of museums, galleries, you can shift the focus towards building a more platform/app-centered venture, requiring B2B or B2B2C orientation.
Do you like the branding? I built it with the help of a free AI-powered tool that leads your creative journey. A fascinating tool, called “LogoJoy”.
While the concept presented herein, as well as in the pitch deck, looks into the Latvian market, it can be applied anywhere around the world. I personally would be happy to download the “LoCo” gifts app from the App Store one day, check the available designs from the city/town/village/museum I am in, and order a customized souvenir to reflect the date I’ve visited this place, or the person I visited it with. Then, to receive my souvenir from the nearest point, e.g. a makers-hub, or have it delivered/shipped. Either way, someone should definitely go ahead with it in Riga, now that the 100th independence anniversary is fast approaching. One small 3D printed souvenir for the tourist, a giant boost for the national pride if a digital representation of the most famous national landmarks become available to the public right around the celebrations.
If 3D printing is not really your thing and the business model canvas below is not of great value to you, then keep on looking for inspiration. But start the search from within – what do you really strive to achieve, to accomplish? Once you sort it out, go with the project/business idea that is fit for the purpose. Look for that “Idea-Founder” fit and you won’t get it wrong at the end of the day, no matter the outcome.
The whole point of the article is not to pitch you this 3D printing business concept, but to share it with you and maybe for you to build it yourself as the research is done on my end.
Why I don’t pursue this business venture? Because my terminal values are different and instrumentally, I build a business to be in sync with these values. I dream for an equal access of opportunities for educational and professional development – for learners throughout the world. For a more effective and efficient educational system. And I am building, along with my colleagues, a product to enable the transformation – a unique learning & development ledger on the blockchain that will allow for learners to have a self-sovereign educational identity and connect through it with the right educators and the right businesses at the right time.
Pick the right business idea and make sure the entrepreneurial journey is worth it. If not, why bother starting at all? I will be really interested to hear your thoughts around the subject. Oh yes, and if you go ahead with the ”LoCo Gifts” idea, I would expect my 3D printed gift in return 🙂