I just started teaching a new class of aspiring entrepreneurs. One of them asked at the end of the first
meeting, "Are you going to tell me what's the best business for me to start?"
He was surprised when I said "no" and told him, instead, about places where he could find lots of
statistics about profitability and growth for various kinds of businesses as a way to begin narrowing
down the possibilities.
Having no experience in starting a business, he didn't realize that the best business for him to start
depends a lot on what his personal goals are, what capabilities he already has, how well he can attract
talent and resources, and how effective he is in various kinds of innovation, from developing new
offerings to pioneering advantaged business models.
Since we had just met, I had no idea about those personal factors. During the next few sessions, I will
show him how to evaluate those fitness dimensions, and to take them into account for selecting a
business to start.
Let me mention another misperception: Most new entrepreneurs mistakenly think that new businesses
are usually so well-formed that they only require being expanded without change.
Actually, what's required is usually just the opposite: New businesses are a mess and need improvement
before they can be successfully expanded.
One of my favorite comments to new entrepreneurs is: "Your first business idea will be your worst one.
Your second business idea will be your second to worst one. Your third business idea will be your third
to worst one. And so forth."
As a result, I encourage those planning to start new businesses to first try lots of their ideas in low-cost,
For many future entrepreneurs it can be especially valuable to work first for a successful organization
that is world class in performing whatever it is that the entrepreneurs think they want to do. After
having that experience, many of them develop a better idea of what to do and become effective
partners, and even competitors, with their former employers.
I was reminded of that lesson recently while attending the opening ceremonies for the Innovation
Group's impressive new rubber compounding line in Rayong, Thailand.
The group was founded just over twenty years earlier by Professor Banja Junhasavasdikul, Ph.D. of
Chulalongkorn University, who earned his doctorate in technology management from Rushmore
University, following a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Chulalongkorn University, a Master of Arts
in organic chemistry from the University of Texas, and an executive MBA from Thammasart University.
Before starting the group, Professor Junhasavasdikul worked for Shell (Thailand) and DuPont for twelve
years where he learned a lot about creating and profiting from producing high-performance organic
At its inception, Innovation Group had only three employees. They focused on marketing
high-performance products produced by American chemical companies, especially DuPont.
Today, Innovation Group has 1,230 employees, operates three trading companies, two rubber
compounding factories, one finished-products factory, and two research-and-development centers. The
company's expertise is sought by the world's leading companies when they want to access the best
technology for creating high-performance products using polymers.
As an example of its development and production expertise, Reebok shoes now last longer than they
used to, thanks to Innovation Group. Recently, Innovation Group added nanotechnology-based products
to its line of offerings.
Few distributors of technical products graduate to become technology-based production companies.
Innovation Group was able to do so because its founder saw the firm's beginning as just one step in the
process of Winning with Technology, a process he described in his book by that title in 2011.
In the book, Professor Junhasavasdikul describes some of the lessons the firm's success demonstrates.
One lesson learned while working for others was that the quality of bosses varied a lot. From those
experiences in working for others, he wanted to do better: He determined to be a "good, but tough,
Acting on that lesson paid off seventeen years ago. That's when Innovation Group was told by its rubber
compounding partner, a firm that controlled the technology, manufacturing, and marketing to large
Japanese customers, that the partner would be establishing its own factory in competition with
The partner vowed it would take all of the Japanese customers with it. For a weak enterprise, that would
have been a deadly event.
Today, Innovation Group is much larger than its former Japanese partner. That's because the Thai firm
developed its own technology and improved its employees from the "inside-out" so that they could
deliver the firm's strong technology to its customers.
Despite the global slowdown in recent years, Innovation Group has continued to expand at an enviable
rate... even after much of Thailand was shut down by floods during 2011.
The firm's prospects have never appeared to be brighter. In addition to Professor Junhasavasdikul, top
management includes his daughter, Ms. Patima Junhasavasdikul, and son, Mr. Panitan Junhasavasdikul,
(each holds an MBA degree from an American university) who have performed well in important
leadership tasks at the firm.
What are some of the lessons that Professor Junhasavasdikul feels are important for other
"I have found that to be successful in growing industrial products in a global market the company must
develop its competitive edge over the competitors in eight ways:
1. Build strong core-competency in three areas:
a. Strong technology in the industry that we serve
b. Employees' abilities, control systems, and culture
c. A strong technical marketing organization
2. Build a strong partnership in the total value chain.
3. Have the ability to ensure congruence between its internal competency and external position.
4. Create and apply great corporate strategies to stay in front of the competition.
5. Develop great marketers.
6. Build a strong corporate image.
7. Establish an effective business network along the value chain.
8. Put in place and improve a strong marketing channel of distribution.
"Innovation never comes by luck. Just generating different ideas cannot create an innovative product.
Productive ideas have to come from the industrial demands of customers. An innovative organization
brings customers' needs and industrial future requirements into the development cycle, which requires
strong knowledge and technology in that area.
"Innovators are not born as such, but they can be developed. Innovators have unique senses in
generating breakthrough business ideas. Innovators have creative intelligence, which differs from other
types of intelligence and enables them to make discoveries. The more diverse the experience and
knowledge an organization has, the more connections that can developed in creative thinking.
"To be a success, a company must have strong business cultures emphasizing good corporate
governance and building employees' competence. Management must also develop effective systems to
control and measure the achievements.
"Customers demand today new products with better quality and better performance, but at a lower
price. The way to succeed in business has to change to reflect those demands.
"Modern marketing's task is to translate what we know about customers' demands and our technology
into the next growth ideas and then to create innovative products that can be provided with
competitive prices and good service."
As you can see from these lessons, building a great business is a moving target. Yesterday's great
business can become tomorrow's also-ran by stopping its improvements and failing to work on the right
Ultimately, the lesson for new entrepreneurs is that they must continually focus on the right vision for
what they want their organizations to do and to then organize work to make those capabilities come to
life. In so doing, they, too, may well be publishing books in a few years to explain to another generation
how they, too, can become successful entrepreneurs.
What do you need to learn? What will your organization need to learn?
What are you waiting for? If world-class entrepreneurs such as Professor Junhasavasdikul are continually
upgrading their own knowledge and that of their organizations through applied study, you should, too.