Graham Thomas (4 March 2015)

From a zoology student at Imperial College via vice-chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi to revolutionising finance and banking for children through Join SAM, Graham Thomas’ entrepreneurial story is an unconventional one.

Tonight, Graham wanted to discuss what makes an idea successful. The inherent complication with ideas is that they are free. “Everybody has an one”; it’s the entrepreneurs behind them that are the difference between success and failure. What makes a great idea? According to the man himself, “A great idea marries a business need with a consumer need and is different, but do-able”.

Once an idea has been established, to maximise its potential success, Graham adopts a methodology known as “agile”. Agile is the art of building the most basic version of the product, releasing it to market, measuring and learning from the feedback gleaned. This loop is validated learning at its most efficient using an evolutionary approach.

A good start up can fail but “there is no such thing as perfection”, success and failure aren’t about “making the mistake, but fixing the mistake, willingly”. Prosperous entrepreneurs are not risk averse; be willing to take the risks and fail. “Failure is good as long as one can understand and measure why the failure occurred.”

A concept does not bring itself to life, it takes investors, entrepreneurs and collaborators. Nonetheless, most people “do not get excited enough to bring a concept to life”. With Graham’s experience, he has learnt that most energy during a start-up is expended on selling. To get investors and collaborators excited, the entrepreneur must breathe life into the idea by telling a story; “a genuine story will inspire and captivate others”. Graham notes on this point that “an idea must not be hidden”, we can’t get people excited if they do not know the idea.

Graham summarised this “idea life cycle” approach by quoting the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass: “It takes all the running just to stay in the same place”. Of course, exactly like evolution where surviving species are those who are best adapted to their environment, ideas too need to be constantly changing to ensure survival – who says that zoology has nothing to with entrepreneurism?

Based on a report by Sean Ruane