the ceo magazine, innovation,
Patrick Henry, Author, Plan Commit Win: 90 Days To Creating A Fundable Startup

A lot has been written about the importance of innovation as it relates to product success. Innovation is important as it relates to intellectual property, product differentiation and sustainable competitive advantage. But just building a better mousetrap does not ensure business success.

The Importance of Breakthrough Innovation

Typically, breakthrough innovation must provide at least a 10X improvement over alternative solutions in terms of price-performance to get the attention of prospective customers.  So, your solution either costs 10X less or performs 10X better, or some combination of the two. This type of innovation requires some out of the box thinking. The best solutions “violate the corporate DNA” of your most fierce potential competitors.  In other words, it will be very difficult for potential major competitors to respond to your innovation since it violates their go-to-market strategy or product strategy, it cannibalizes a major product line of theirs, or in some other way violates a deeply held company practice or process.

Fulfilling a Customer Need

An underlying assumption about relevant breakthrough innovation is related to solving big problem for your target customer.  You need to ask:

  • Is this an important problem for the customer?
  • Is the customer desperate to solve this problem?
  • Is my solution vastly superior to the alternative ways this problem is currently being addressed?

Ideally you are addressing a problem that is causing your customer a lot of pain. They are losing sleep over this problem.  You then need to make it clear and obvious how your solution solves the problem and removes the pain.

Addressing a Potentially Large and Rapidly Growing Market

Even if your solution addresses a significant target customer problem, there must be enough of those customers to make the opportunity attractive. You have to “catch the wave” early and ride it as the market opportunity grows and expands. Explosive growth at scale is critical for an innovative product to be a business success.

Hitting Landing Zones and Project Management

Most customers, especially in a B2B setting, have a specific ‘landing zone” that must be met to implement a solution. The landing zone includes schedule or time, cost, features, and integration with their existing ecosystem and processes. To have the best chance of deployment of your solution in any kind of reasonable timeframe, you need to intersect the customer’s landing zone.

Leading, Managing, and Vision

Running any company is very hard work, and running an emerging growth company has its own unique set of challenges. The most brilliant breakthrough ideas are meaningless unless they are realized in reality through stellar execution. So, management matters, teams matter and teamwork matters. Leadership is about getting the right people onboard, focusing the team on the right things, removing distractions, motivating by setting the vision and aligning rewards with desired results. As said by Sun Tsu, the ancient Chinese Military strategist, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” A part of strategy is articulating it is such a way that your team understands it, internalizes it, and translates it into why their work matters.  This means talking about the big picture and the really big picture, while showing how the details matter to achievement of the ultimate goal.

Team Building

Most companies have job specification for hiring.  These specs typically have a set of required skills and abilities, and a set of roles and responsibilities for the employee. All of this is important. At the same time, you need to hire for cultural fit, team fit, a bias toward action, and a desire and willingness to make the necessary sacrifices to get things done.

Promoting the Product

Being able to articulate how your problem solves the target customer’s problem is critical for business success. To do this, you need to have a deep understanding of the problem you are solving and how your product features translate into benefits and pain alleviation for the customer. The best way to do this is through storytelling. Use analogies, metaphors, case studies, and customer testimonials. Get endorsements from other happy and satisfied customers.  Know your audience and learn to speak in the language of the customer. Have a deep understanding of your completion including substitute products and potential new entrants. Be able to clearly articulate how you are different, and why the customer should work with you.

About the Author

Patrick Henry is the author of Plan Commit Win: 90 Days To Creating A Fundable Startup.  He is the CEO of QuestFusion and has over 25 years experience in managing high technology companies.  As CEO of Entropic, he took the company from a pre-revenue and pre-product phase to a successful NASDAQ listed public company.  Henry has a bachelor in Engineering Science and Mechanics from the Georgia Institute of Technology and an MBA from the University of Southern California.


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