Most of us feel that you have to be born with “materials” or “genes” with certain characteristics and drive to become an entrepreneur to start a company. We look at great entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk, with awe similar to how we look at Greek gods, that they have climbed up where no man could ever dream of.
This is my attempt to prove that we are actually all born with the “materials” and “genes”, and thanks to many great entrepreneur mentors like Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Seth Godin, and their books laying out whats, whys, and hows of entrepreneurship, that, with right preparations, passions, and a lot of hard work, the chance of success gets larger and larger, to the point where it becomes the sustainable business.
In fact, I will take this to another level, that, disruptive innovation is key to human existence and survival because it makes how we do things more efficiently and effectively with less, allowing the entire humanity to reap the benefits. To that end, disruptive innovation is what has been and will be accelerating advancement of humanity and we are all created to be one. Entrepreneurship is a science and methodology that helps create sustainable disruptive innovations. When we stop innovating, greed and fear creeps in and zero-sum game begins, as it always has been, taking down the individuals, companies, countries, and even, at times, civilization with it.
We are all engineered to be disruptive innovators
So why should we care about disruptive innovations and human creativity? Throughout the history, countless disruptive innovations with incredible human creativity, even though they were considered as fallacies and evil, not only did they end up saving the entire humanity from its doom, but advancing the our civilization and paved the new, better, and brighter future.
It all started with tinkering with stones to make knives, axes, and hammers 2.6 million years ago. Then we learned how to create fire 1.6 million years ago. Fast track, we invents the wheel in 3,500 BC, alphabets in 1,700 BC and coins in 1,500 BC. Fast track again to 1 BC and paper is invented, then woodblock printing in 3rd century and so on. Not only invention, but scientific era begin to open up. In 300 BC, Aristotle discovers that the world is not flat. Coming into 17th century, we enter into age of enlightenment and reason where Sir Isaac Newton discovers the gravity and for the first time in history, we are able to mathematically express the relationship between force and mass. It certainly didn’t stop there. We discovered electricity and soon learned how to generate it and deliver it. Never mind the whole other incredible inventions that uses electricity. How about electromagnetism and invention of radio in 19th century? How about invention of steam engine? Flying machine? How about the general relativity theory discovered by Albert Einstein that is allowing us to see beyond our planet, into the galaxy, allowing us to measure number of stars in the Universe. The innovation does not stop in just technology. How about all those countless innovations in medicine and agriculture? Can you think of a world without fire, wheels, language, books, electricity, cars, airplanes, and vaccines? For that matter, how about without our wifi, mobile devices, and search engines?
Whenever humanity faced odds with its very survival, we came through with incredibly creative and disruptive innovations that solved the daunting problems and passed the benefit to the next generation. Thanks to the innovators, we currently live in so much better world than, say, even 100 years ago. There are still people in some parts of the world that have to worry about hunger and diseases, usually due to human greed and fear intervening food from getting to the needed, but in most of the countries, we reap the benefits from engineering smarts of our ancestors.
4,000 Supercomputers in All of Us. But human creativity does not spur only when we face odds with our survival. In fact, we are engineered to be creative. Our brains have hundreds of billions of neurons connected together, able to process information massively in parallel, at least 4,000 times faster than currently fastest supercomputer, connecting them in unlimited combinations, enabling imagination and giving vision to the future. The more we put our minds about something, the stronger the brain paths forms and we get better at dealing with that something that was once thought as most daunting tasks. Indeed, every one of us has this incredible super computing machine that is just waiting to be tapped.
Natural Booster. In fact, in case you didn’t know, as we engage in solving new daunting but novel problems, by being creative and innovative, our brain activates dopamine, motivating us to focus and absorb information faster and deeper, just like how we get excited for planning the next new adventure, buying the next new smartphone, and for planning a marriage with our loved ones.
Reptilian Brain and Zero-Sum Game. If we are so engineered to be creative, why aren’t we all doing it? Ever since human beings came to existence, we were dominated by our reptilian brain and is still around in case it is still needed. Reptilian brain leads us to very basic survival and brings in the greed and fear so that we can be cautious and survive. This reinforces conformity, complacency, and bureaucratic hierarchy. We hunted in packs and if we didn’t follow our wiser leader, we could have been eaten by lions or go hungry for days and weeks. We were all fearful. The fear then drove greed. Even when we have enough, we would go acquire extras just in case we needed ifor the unforeseen future. And to make the case worse, for the most part, the world our ancestors lived was a perpetual zero-sum game. One can only advance by taking things from others. Hence terrible wars ensued as long as humans existed.
Destructive Power of Zero-Sum Game. Seth Godin and Peter Thiel have explained this well in their books, Purple Cow and Zero to One, that, the few incredible innovators were able to do the impossibles created the purple cows, and invented the products that never existed before. But as soon as we slowed down the innovation, stopped leveraging our engineering genius of the minds, things quickly come back to zero-sum games. In place of innovation and creativity, fear and greed crept in.
It is ever more prevalent in those companies that once brought us the incredible innovations that changed human history, greed is making people stop thinking about the future for the humanity but for short gains of individuals. The more power and authority one has in the corporation, the more individual gains they seek. The disruptive innovations that once brought exponential advancements are categorized as risks, and fear of losing their short gains, they are doing everything to reduce this so called “risks”, and considers them harmful. The more greed and fear seeps in, the less place innovations can take place, and there is only one path for decline of innovation, since then there will be a zero-sum game, the corporation collapses and those leeches of greed and fear looks for the next host of innovation to suck life from.
Zero-Sum Game in Education. This terrible zero-sum game is ever more prevalent in our education system. The system teaches same subjects mostly the same ways to students sitting still at a desk, irrespective of their talents and preferences. Out of so many unique and incredible talents, with incredible brain machine, only those with highest marks at a slighted margin, on all subjects, the elites who are the jack of all trades but master of none, receive the status, credentials, and opportunities. But in this useless tournament of selecting the very few elites of elites, most of them faces the monumental competition only to get beaten out from the system resulting devastation. Such an effort is incredibly inefficient, wasteful, and useless.
Zero-Sum Game in Corporations. That’s not all. Worst of all is, even for those that were selected as the elites of the elites that land the dream job at a supreme court or big corporations, nothing prepared them for the amount of greed and fear that is prevalent in the system, that they are forced to conform to the greed of the managers to satiate their appetites, navigate through silos and walls of fiefdoms put by their very coworkers, departments and even companies themselves, with endless chains approvals in this bureaucratic hierarchy, all acting fearful of losing their power (budget), authority, and even job, generating incredible inefficiencies and wastes along the way, which eventually leads to self-destruction.
The Solution to End Zero-Sum Game: Disruptive Innovations. Yes, fortunately there is a way out. The only way to end this misery and self destruction is to leverage our incredible mind, smarts, engineering, and passion, to create useful, valuable, exciting, and learning product that can help people do things faster, better, and cheaper. Because this new way is making things cheaper and better, the human society is able gain benefit from the savings with better quality, faster by doing the thing efficiently and allowing us to focus our precious time to something better. When innovation is present, everyone wins from efficiency gained and the savings thereof. Everyone has a pie to share and eat together.
Elon Musk readily demonstrated this by founding SpaceX and pushing human creativity and engineering to its limit by creating the space rocket that is 10 times cheaper than what NASA made (50 mil vs 500 mil) and still generating 70% profit margin.
So how do we get started? It all starts with your passion.
There is no shortage for innovative products in any industries. But that very innovative product requires your focus, devotion, creative mind, expertise, and lots of hard work. The only way you can exert these qualities is by doing something that you vastly love doing and deeply care about making difference.
What do you love the most? What do you spend most of your time on? What are the things that you cannot put your mind away, can’t sleep for, and can’t wait to do it again? What were the things you did that made time go so fast? Things that made you so excited? Do you think you can spend rest of your life learning about it and making it better? What would you want to be known to your next generation?
Undecided? Time to be Curious. If you know that exact thing you are passionate about, dead square, that’s great. If you are not certain yet, not a problem. Regardless whether you are determined or not, or change the area of focus later, it is still a great exercise to go through to explore opportunities where you can make greatest impact that you love doing. You might tend to choose popular industries. But the more popular it is, the more competition there is. So, don’t limit yourself to industries you know of, but be curious and poke to see what’s out there.
Go through major industries and learn what those industries do. Educate yourself on who that industry is serving, and how it is able to deliver usefulness and value for them. Is that something you’d love to engaged in? Go through the list of industries and pick 3-5 industries that you love and care deeply about. Don’t rush this process. This might take days, weeks, even months. It is important for you to evaluate how your passion will align to existing industries and the people it is serving. Heck, you can even invent the whole new industry, like how Facebook created the social media industry.
Your Community and End Users. For each industry, ask yourself if you deeply care about those that are being served by the industry. Do you see some things are not done right and that people are going through pain and suffering? Do you want to create innovative solutions to eliminate the pain? Do you care if they get to experience better things at a faster pace? Do you care if the price gets cheaper so that more people can get a chance to enjoy that product? Do you care of the product becomes really useful and valuable for them? Are you losing sleep over creating new, fun, exciting, and learning experiences for the product for people to enjoy even more? Repeat this exercise until you find an industry that, not only do you love to be engaged in, but deeply care about the people engaged in it.
Hobby vs. Business. Simply put, if you are creating the product so that you can prove to yourself that you can do it and brag it to your friends and family, then it is really nothing more than just a hobby. If you really care about those that engaged in the industry because you want to belong to and relate to people who share same passion and zeal with you, and want nothing more than to advance that industry with the community of people by making awesome better, faster, and cheaper products, that will be provide useful and valuable, that will make people get excited about engaging in new, fun, unique, learning and rewarding experiences, then you have a business. There is nothing wrong with having a hobby. In fact, millions of people do. But you should not get confused hobby from business. Otherwise, your business will be a failure from start.
Mission Statement. Before we get too specific with the product, knowing your passion, and what and who you want to make greatest impact, let’s declare a mission statement that will sum this up at a high level. Without getting into specific details, write down what is it that you want to innovate, and why for this particular group of audiences? What does the world look like when everyone is able to use your product and reap the benefit it brings? Bring this vision into your mission statement.
Mission statement will allow you focus on the core values of the organization as company grows and help align the team. If there is anyone that care less about the mission of the organization, or any work that does not align with the mission statement, that person and that work will only slow down the progress.
Great! Now that you picked the industry you want to innovate, where you want to make the most impact, for those engaged in it, with the novel cause written in the mission statement which tells the vision of how to take them there, we need to determine that very product that can take us there.
Ideating the Disruptive and Innovative Product
This is the moment you were waiting for. It is now time to use our incredible brain to give birth to disruptive innovations that will tackle impossible problems, and deliver new and unique, fun and exciting, learning and rewarding experience for your end users who are so much like you. That very thought is making you lose sleep many nights over.
Ideas could come at an instant, but for most of us, and even for Elon Musk, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin, out of hundreds of ideas they bring out when they meet, only a few ideas have the real business potential to succeed. So don’t give up but enjoy this incredible opportunity to think broadly, and dream up everything you want to do that aligns to your mission and help your end users.
Persona. Since the product will need to be very specific, let’s define a persona that the product will serve. This technique is very help to personify the end users and align your team. Come up with a name, title, age, income, schooling, personal data like having a boy/girl friends, marriage, a child, how to get his career/life promoted, industry/group associations, music he/she listens to, how he/she socializes, any heroes, what gets him/her motivated, what gets him/her fearful, and the priorities in his/her job. Find out what his/her goals are, current needs, and pains they go through every day.
Problems,Pains, Dislikes. People hate problems and pains. What are problems and pains that your end users go through in that industry? If your solution can eliminate the problems and pains, the product will be very valuable.
Better. Quality and refinement are something we all love to strive to get. Quality food, quality clothing, even quality vacation is something we all love to experience. Usually, tiny segments of riches get such drastically different levels of quality. How can you bring it down to your audience? Are there any engineering solutions that can bring about the level of quality?
Faster. Time is something we cannot get back. So it is truly valuable. Can you find ways to speed up things drastically and do the same things faster? Usually slow-downs and clutters are caused by bureaucratic hierarchy that requires chains of approvals. How can you revolutionize the process with help of technology so that it becomes faster?
Cheaper. The only one way that the product can spread to the mass is that it needs to meet the audience’s price level. What are the ways that you can make something drastically cheaper without losing quality? Is there a way that wasn’t thought of, that can be implemented, with help from technology and engineering?
New and Unique, Fun and Exciting, Learning and Rewarding Experiences. We are always intrigued by new and unique things that we never experienced before. Do you remember your first field trip to a museum? How about buying a new spring clothes? First barbecue? Music? The list goes on and on. How can you bring new, exciting, and unique experiences in this industry that is fun to do and teachings you a thing or two, that no one thought of before?
Endless Combination. Another great way to brainstorm a product idea is to evaluate best of breed products out there and brainstorm ways to connect, relate, combine features with your unique personality and past experiences to come up with unique features and experiences that is your own. Be playful and enjoy this endless little puzzle games and see if any combination generate usefulness, value, new, exciting, rewarding and learning experiences for you and your end users.
5 Senses. Product feature itself would only account 30% of success. The rest of 70% comes from how it looks, sounds, smells, feels, and how you package overall experience and engagement that generate the new, unique, fun, and rewarding experience.
Impossibles. Are there problems that people think is impossible to solve? Don’t get discouraged. This could be the opportunity you are seeking. Most if not all what we currently take for granted are once thought of as magic. Cars, airplanes, mobile phones, vaccines. List goes on endlessly. Break the problem down to smaller pieces. Use creativity, engineering, technology, and lots of brainpower to see if there is a way to solve the problem. Remember, your brain is at least 4,000 times faster than the latest supercomputer to date. It looks impossible because we probably haven’t thought of a new and drastically different way to solve it.
Latest and Emerging Technologies and Trends. Not sure where to start? Explore the latest technologies, channels, and trends by attending conferences, watch or listen to interviews, and read up academic papers. What are occupying people’s mind? Usually, latest technology is something big corporations stay away from due to fear and greed. Greed anchors them down firmly since investing in something very new that doesn’t necessarily bring short term gains is considered as a risk. Fear anchors them down harder especially if they are considered risks. Instead, it looks for for easy, small, and proven wins. There is no sight of future anywhere. This is where opportunity exists. Stay focused with your mission and future. What are some of great products that will allow those end users to do it better, faster, easier, cheaper, while engaging in new, fun, exciting, and learning experience, and ultimately generate usefulness and value.
Narrow down to a niche audience. Once you identified the opportunity, narrow down to a niche audience. Be that niche audience, and role play to see what their lives look and feel like. What are they performing every day? What pains do they go through everyday? Is there opportunity exists for a product that will really help them remove that pain and problem, and help them do their job better, faster, cheaper, all while engaged in new, fun, exciting, learning and rewarding experiences? What would make them come back again for the useful and valuable features and experiences?
Put Your Entrepreneur Idea Through Litmus Test
Now that you selected a few great product ideas, let’s run through further tests to see if they are worthy of pursuing.
10 Times Rule. Has a market been already established? Are they slow to innovate and not on top of their game probably due to greed and fear? Now, can you do it 10 times better in new and unique features and experience using creativity, engineering smarts, and passion? Only when your product can do things 10 times better is it considered as disruptive innovation that can be noticeable, share-worthy, and make significant impact for the end users.
Focus on 0 to 1 and the Creative Monopoly. Is your product so unique and new, and serving such unique niche audience that it doesn’t yet exist in the market but there is a great need? This is the product to build. There is always limited early adopters who is open to try new products. You will need to get there fast and monopolize it. If there is already a competitor in the market, the pie is very small and it will be very difficult to get the adoption needed to survive. Before blue ocean turns into red ocean, dominate it, monopolize it.
Creative Platform. Does your product not only let users do things faster, better, cheaper, but also let’s them to express their creativity? Is your platform lets users not only create content but also easily host them, and share them? This allows people to feel ownership of the product, and share their creative content that they invested their time and money to their network of friends and family. Creative platforms have exponential growth potentials.
Product User Stories. This is it. With all of the notes taken, brainstorming you did in previous steps, coming up with tens, if not hundreds of ideas, you feel you are onto something solid. Now, flesh out user stories of how your users will engage in your product, which is still in your head, that will help will not only help solve that problem, pain, dislike but exceed in delivering new, unique, fun, exciting, learning, and rewarding experience better, faster, and cheaper way. Jog down all of the detailed interactions with the end users. These are the assumptions that will need to get tested later.
Test of All Tests: Virality. If your product does not generate the excitement, the wows, and irresistibility upon use, there is a good chance that it will fail by default. Especially during the startup phase, where there isn’t enough capital to go around, your product is your ultimate marketing machine that needs to generate word of mouth marketing amongst your niche audience, those early adopters.
Seth Godin calls them sneezers with otaku. Those aficionados, connoisseurs, that devour new and exciting things. Who are they? Where are they? Can you create a detailed persona of these sneezers? Can you identify individuals and do a real face-to-face research to measure pain points, or how to get them do their job better, and make them shine? Is the product making them say “wow, that’s so awesome!”, or even “thank you”? Remember, these people are the lead pin in the bowling alley.
Lastly, make sure that your product makes the shareability embedded, natural, and easy to do.
Plan And Reduce the Burdensome Risks
Pre-founding Skills. Before we start the planning, which is key in determine your readiness of founding a company, commit resources and money, and drive the product to finish line, it is important to know that startup founders usually are focused in development of the product, but often forget that there are many other critical skills that are needed to operate a company.
Indeed, product development is the core skill, but the product will need branding, advertisement, finance, and human resource at the minimum. It will important for you to acquire basic knowledge of these different key areas. Learn what they are, why they exist, and what it takes to roll it out to your company.
Let the planning begin. Okay. It is now time to make the “dream” a reality. We need to plan all that is necessary to take the product to market. Remember, there are always enough ideas to go around but there is not enough will to execute to the level that can take the product to the level of quality that can excite early fans and get them adopted. Planning let you see how this could be possible.
Plan in phases, how small it is because it is important to learn to estimate your current capacity and capability. Also products are improved in many iterations. So the plan can be grandiose, don’t over do it to the degree you cannot to complete it in a reasonable time. 3-6 month iteration cycles is typical in startups. It is super hard work and needs all of your focus. Try your best to stick to it and keep to the schedule. It will be very challenging and rewarding journey especially it is something you enjoy the most. If not, you are already default to fail.
MVP (Minimum Viable Product) Features. You must have come up with so many awesome ideas that excited the sneezers from previous exercise. But there isn’t enough time to do it all. Can you prioritize the list of the features in the order of excitement and usefulness, which will allow gaining of more sneezers as that specific features are added to the product?
Expertise Needs. You are now aiming to develop the 1-2 greatest features of the product that to those early adopters is worth dying for. What types of skills, expertise, and talents are needed to build that great features that will catapult your product? Do you need designers, engineers, or salespeople? When do you need them, for what, and for how long?
Time and Money. Quality is something you cannot suffer. But there are two other very important factors to consider in order to build the product successfully: time and money. If you have more money, time can be shorted. If you have more time, then you may be able to build it with less money. Do you have little bit of seed money? Can you buy the talent that you are critically missing that will be key to your product?
Quantify the Goals for Each Milestones. As you set out the plan and timeline, make sure to define measurable metrics along the way that will inform you whether you are on track. Then, quantify how your product is delivering the value and excitement for the end users. It is very easy to get blindsided by our ego. Metrics will help guide us on the right track. Remember, time is your greatest asset. Be wise, honest, and fail quickly to learn and fix.
Innovative Business Model. Business model is important because in order for the product to evolve and get better, the business needs stream of income. Even if it is just yourself, you will still need a place to sleep, feed yourself, and electricity for your computer.
But you should not confine your product into any one kind of business model. Be creative and inventive. Use your vast engineering mind to come up with revolutionary way of establishing pricing structure for your product that will result in win-win.
Types. Here are most common business models: one-time up-front charge plus maintenance, cost plus, hourly rate, subscription or leasing model, licensing, consumables, upsell with high-margin products, advertising, reselling the data collected, transaction fee, usage-based, “cell phone” plan, parking meter or penalty charges, microtransactions, shared savings, franchise, operating and maintenance.
Remember again that business model is there to create sustainable product that can continue to deliver great value and usefulness that is better, cheaper, and faster, while engaged in new, unique, fun, exciting and learning experiences. Focus on the end user and see what it would take to get the critical mass of user adoption needed to be a viable business and define what will allow the exchange of money with the value that end users are receiving from their perspective, their shoes, their lives, and make this such a win-win situation. Be honest and be critical.
Estimation. Based on above, project the timeline, identify what resources are needed and when, and determine how long it will take to build the product.
We need to revisit the planning and added the marketing component which is critical in spreading the buzz by targeting the right audience. This also costs resources, time, and money.
Find Business Partner to Accelerate
During the startup phase, one would tend to think that time is something that one has plenty of, especially when there is no big money or reputation at stake. But this is exactly the opposite. In startup phase, time is often the only resource that one has and there isn’t enough to go around.
Often resources are completely stretched thin. If you are one person startup, not only do you have to come up with all of the product ideas, research, but now you would need to design, develop, market, fix bugs, take customer emails, and venture out into the areas that you may be not suited for.
Can’t Do It Alone. One issue with this approach is that often the product may take too long to build and get to the point where it can attract enough early adopters to reach market saturation before another competitive product tries to get a slice of the same pie. The pie is usually very small and enough for one startup. Another issue is, the world we live in moves fast. This is particularly true for those products that create and/or leverage technology. What was relevant a few years ago can be obsolete now. Lastly, once the product catches the momentum, it is important to keep up the pace and continue to build up the features fast to attract new early adopters until the adoption reaches to the point where it starts to spill into mainstream. Until that happens, failure is imminent when creating new things. The difference of real failure and success is how quickly you recognize the mistakes, learn from it, and fix the mistakes. So speed is crucial factor in the startup phase.
Find Business Partner. There are several ways to accelerate the pace for the various reasons mentioned above. One very common way to speed up building of your product is finding a business partner who has the unique skills and expertise that is crucial to get to the tipping point, share even more passion and zeal than you for this irreplaceable mission and willing to give everything they’ve got, not blinded by any short term gains, can compensate the weaknesses to each others’ strengths, whom you would be excited to see day in and day out, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week for 3-5 straight years, shares similar likes and dislikes, does not compete but generate synergy where one idea becomes three, three ideas become nine, gets excited to learn new things and explore new ways of doing things, and ultimately trustworthy.
Make or Break. Finding the right business partner is so crucial that it is like putting a foundation for the skyscraper or even establishing a country. It could even be compared to considering for a marriage partner. Often many startups fail because of the conflicts arise between business partners. But if find the right one, the gain is exponential.
Test Period. Because finding the right partner is so important, the partners should give a trial period for each other, to test the water to see what they said is actually what is turned out to be and that every single point mentioned above is verifiable. This synergy has to work not only from you to the partner, but partner to you. It must be a win-win situation for both parties. Get to know each other, find what each others’ ambitions are, what you differ on, love on. Do you share same principles and worldview, even share similar favorite geeky novels, or fans of star trek vs starwars?
Contract. It is utmost important to lay down list of all of expectation clearly on the paper and have complete alignment with the business partners. You really can’t afford to waste precious time and resource to any misalignment. Roles and responsibilities should be spelled out clearly and that there is no ambiguity and everyone needs to align and agree to them.
Renting the Talent. You are probably completely cash-strapped and barely getting by with tiny seed money from your savings, retirement funds, parents, or from small group of close-knit investors. This is also why you chose to have the business partners to share the burden from your shoulder. But sometimes, for trivial tasks, it may be worth to spend little bit of money to delegate some of the simple and straightforward tasks to hired guns so that you and your partner can focus on bigger and greater tasks. This might involve checking and sorting out emails, taking phone calls, even designing company brand and stationary.
Develop Your Idea Into Product
You are now about third way there launching your first product. You have worked hard to ideate the product, find the dream partner to take the journey together, and planned the core features that will be irresistible for early adopters. Heck, you are so excited that you may have already started developing your product already. Great! But wait! There are must-know key points that you should keep in mind during the product development. Use these points as the guiding light to stay focused and on course.
Focus on core features. If you are an engineer at heart, you might get carried away in solving particular problems for the sake of solving, and may not be most fruitful time spent for developing the minimally viable product. This is not limited to just an engineer but anyone who is expert at and passionate about the subject. That’s great! But again, time is very limited. If you went on tangent, come back, and stay focused on delivering the few core features that will blow sneezers with otaku minds away and make an irresistible product that they have to tell their friends about and brag.
Establish unique design and branding. Did you know that humans are attracted to beautiful things? When we see beautiful things, regardless whether we know it or not, it instills certain degree of assurance and credibility. Great unique design for the product will not only help establishing the much needed identity of the product but also boost the assurance and credibility. This is readily tested and proved by the wine tasting and the effects of wine glass it has to the taste. In a double blindfolded wine tasting test, for normal people, they could not tell the difference between $5, $20, or $500 wine. But many felt drinking expensive wine when they tasted the wine in an expensive glass. When our eyes tell us to be assured, we want to really believe in it despite lacking some key details.
Design new, unique, fun, exciting, learning, and rewarding experiences. We are officially in an experience economy. Majority of society no longer worries about starvation. We can now afford to get beyond and experience things that we never experienced before. If your product can deliver new and unique, fun and exciting experiences by interacting with it, and also teaches users a thing or two, the product will vastly be more attractive.
Strengthen the Weaknesses. Do you have products that you really like? What are they doing right? Can you bring them into your product? How about horrible products that you can’t wait to get rid of. What offended yo and made you even mad? Is any of these bad experiences exist in your product? If there are bad experiences and features that is incomplete due to unforeseen limitations, is there any possible way to strengthen it using creativity, engineering, and cost effectively?
Provide simple personalization through recognition. We love ourselves. We love ourselves so much that when we get recognized, even as small as calling our name out, that experience sticks to our minds like a magnet. Starbucks leverages this very well by writing down your name and call your name aloud when your drink is ready. When their names are called, most people would raise their hand, say “yes”, and jump to get the drink as if they won a reward. Even simple personalization that recognizes the user by their first name does 42% better than the one that doesn’t. Although some would get offended for getting greeted as they enter WalMart, most people can’t resisting smiling back and say “hi” back to the greeter.
Personalization doesn’t have to be fancy. It can start with recognizing the user at the right moment to enhance the experience. Be conversational to the end users, as if they are your friends. After all, they are using the product many times over. They are already very close to the product and think as part of their life. It is about time the product recognizes the end users at the individual, personal way, one friend to another. Personalization and recognition is surely will help boost the already great experience the product offers even better.
Wire in the natural feedback loop. If you can’t find things to improve in your product, and feel like you have reached the top of the mountain, then there is really only one way to go, down. But usually there are lots of things to improve and iterate. But what to improve that will make the most impact? Time is very limited. This is where feedbacks from the very end users is incredibly important. You cannot make the feedback a chore, another task for end users to do. Rather, the feedback should be embedded naturally throughout the product, subtle, but enough to give directions to the creators. For example, asking “do you want to take 5 minute survey?” will result in immediate “no”. Instead, you can ask “did that take too long?” or “would you like to do it again if you were asked?” and users can simply choose yes or no and even appreciate asking such context based questions.
User Test. As you build prototypes or go through each iterations of development, get them in front of a few trustable early adopters and observe how they react to the features and functionalities and take careful notes. Don’t stage the test but look for organic feedback. Also, get at least 5 different testers and have them interact to different features to see what is just a personal preference versus recognizable pattern. Be prepared for the harsh truth. Your product is no way near completion nor refined so a lot of negative feedback is all so expected. The things you would be looking for are what are some of the obvious things that the user is looking for. These are minimum features. Then focus on the specific feature that was delivered for this testing. Is the user using the product the way it was intended? What are key usability features that were missed?
Take Your Product to Market – Spreading the Great News!
Now that you have create the most compelling product, it is time to spread the great message to your niche audience that there is a product to use that will not only help them live their lives better, faster, and cheaper, but it lets them engage in new, unique, fun, exciting, learning, and rewarding experiences. Who can resist?
Your Product and Word of Mouth Marketing. Do you know what is the best marketing tactic there is? It is your awesome product, that to your niche audience it is irresistible and to-die-forIndeed, the most important marketing there is for the startup, or any business for that matter, is the very irresistible product itself that bags to be told to friends and family by the early adopters.
Interruptive Marketing to Sneezers with Otaku. You are so confident about your product, that you wholeheartedly want to believe that “if you build it, they will come.” But this is where your ego can get you single handedly. The reality is that consumers have plenty of things to occupy themselves that they really don’t have much time to know and learn about your product. Because of this, often the word-of-mouth marketing alone isn’t enough to gain the needed number of users for the projected growth. This is where interruptive marketing comes from. The key is to use the sophisticated digital marketing to hyper target those sneezers with otaku so that you can afford a brief moment for them to drop what they are doing and listen to what you have to offer for split second. Because you only have a few seconds to convince them to try your product, it is utmost important that your advertisement needs to recognize the targeted users, personalized it show that the product can not only solve their problems, but even help them do their things faster, better, and cheaper, all the while, delivering in new, unique, exciting, fun, and learning experience.
Exclusiveness. Incentives. To boost the effectiveness of the interruptive marketing by 3 to 5 folds, exclusiveness marketing in the form of personalization and recognition on these sneezers, such as invitation only access, can be very effective form of marketing. Such marketing doesn’t have to be expensive at all. But rather leverage creativeness to generate unique and special offering that delivers personalized message recognizing these key early adopters. If you have little bit of money, then incentive offerings can definitely help boost the viral spread of the adoption even further. Instead of spending enormous dollars in ineffective billboard or TV advertisement, Paypal’s giving $10 credit towards sign up for early adopters played a key role in gaining strong foothold of users in the early days. Last but not least, make sure that the exclusiveness and incentive are something the early adopters can easily spread to their friends and family, making their friends and family get the same special treatment and recognition.
Your End Users. Community of Fans. Can’t emphasize enough how important every single early adopters are. The product exists to help them do their things better, faster, and cheaper, delivering usefulness and tangible value. If your product cannot attract fans, then your product is not unique, nor exciting, nor useful enough and it may not have too many legs to stand. If your product has die-hard fans, then it is utmost important to retain them by creating a community of these fans, so that the company can have honest two way conversations to hear them what their current pain points, reflect ideas, and even offer further exclusive incentives for being the fan.
There are many ways to keep the conversation open. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and even SnapChat are good medium to deliver quick bite-sized news and tips to keep them abreast of latest and greatest. But these mediums are not ideal for more detailed coverage of pain points, product features, etc. This is where blogs, podcasts, and YouTube video channels come from. Use these medium to go in depth on what occupies the users, creators, and even the industry. Be the leader and not laggard of the industry. For tight groups of users with different interests, a discussion forum would be ideal.
Finally, holding local meetups to meet the early adopters is a sure way to earn their loyalty. If you don’t yet have enough fans, then don’t just sit there and do nothing, find the existing communities where similar conversation already takes place. Contribute your knowledge to help solve numerous problems that these fans are experiencing. This is a great way to subtly introduce your product.
Establish dashboard as business operates:
- Profit and loss in day, week, month, quarter, yearly
- Product quality level
- Production quantity level
- Innovative level
- Brand awareness level
- Loyal customer base level
- Market saturation
- Customer satisfaction level
- Employee satisfaction level
Iterate, Iterate, and Iterate
Wow, you made it! You have proven yourself that your passion was not just a hobby, but a mission you wanted to devote your life for making useful, valuable product that solve real problems for people and advancing the humanity by helping them do things better, faster, and cheaper, not boringly, but added new, exciting, fun, unique, and learning experiences.
Failure is imminent when creating new things. Though, know that the difference for the successful company is how quick you are to recognize it, learn from it, and fix them. Make sure to check your ego and look at the product from end user’s perspective. Elon Musk, having trained in physics, has a great habit of seeing the assumptions wrong until you can actually prove, with data, that it is heading into right direction.
Feedback, such an opportunity. This is why feedback from end users are incredibly important and very valuable opportunity to detect imminent failures and fix them quickly. As mentioned previously, feedback loop must be natural and embedded as part of the new, unique, fun, exciting, and learning experience. Feedback does not just come from user responses but also patterns of usage. Detect where people may be having problems and bouncing off.
Tie such valuable feedback with rewards and recognition. There are many cost-free way of rewarding and recognizing users who gave a few seconds of their lives to the product. Be creative and have fun in ideating.
Now, what are ways you can take that specific feedback and not just fix it but do it 10 times better? Disruptive innovation doesn’t have to be a completely new product but can happen at every level of the product too. Use this great opportunity to recognize where the needs are and blow end user’s mind away by making it awesome.
Excitement of bringing the next awesome features and experiences to your end users. You may be too busy building your product but it is utmost important to allow yourself a chance to go outside, take a deep cool breath, look around, and see what’s around you. In fact, you wouldn’t give up a world for finding out what’s going on in the industry and what new trends are forming, what new successful products are gaining fast user adoption, and try to see how and whether it could work for your product and users to enhance or deliver new and unique the features and experiences. Not only you yourself is excited about these new technologies, experiences, but you are even more excited to bring these over to your loyal customers.
3 Iterations. Any product, in order for it to gain the market saturation, and also to mature, it takes at least 3 iterations. You need to double down, charge ahead at a fast pace, with definite plan, and go through at least a few cycles of iterations, consider great feedback from end users, and take this great opportunity to do it even better, faster, and cheaper for your next iteration.
Stay lean and focused. It is likely that you are already very cash strapped. Regardless whether you have money or not, as your product grows, greed and fear will start to seep in and introduce wastes, inefficiencies, and layers. Things may get more expensive and take longer to do. Fight back the wastes, inefficiencies, and layers. Focus on the big vision, the mission, usefulness and value generating work for end users. Make sure to keep the ego checked.
Elon Musk with SpaceX and Google have certainly taught us the lessons that staying lean allowed them to beat the competition and still deliver enormous values for people, which ultimately is allowing them to grow at a much face pace.
Raising Capital. It is almost impossible to raise money without data showing growth. Now that you have gone through at least one or two iterations, and steadily gaining adoption, it is very important to speed up and get to the early adopter saturation point where you can gain strong foothold as competitions from copycat startups and even big corporations will be after your product.
Though, in many growing startups, conflicts arise between the founders and investors where their point of view on how to best take the company to. Usually, founders want more stability and internal growth, and investors are driven by short term profit. If investors have more shares of the company, founders can be driven out of their own companies. So it is important to find the investors who share similar passion, zeal, principles, and worldview, just like finding your business partners.
Persevere. If you think that a greatness happens randomly or accidentally, sorry to break it to you, but you are very very wrong. Greatness does not happen accidentally, although it is marketed to us way. United States was not dreamt up over a night. Light bulb was not invented over a night. It took 10,000 tries. Howard Schultz shares his experience with starting Starbucks, that when you shoot an arrow to the target, initially, there will be a lot of misses. But the more practice you do, you will get better, and soon, all you will be hitting is bullseye. A popular buddhist monk from South Korea, Bub-Ryul, shares that doing a great work equals to blowing a balloon. You keep blowing the air into the balloon and soon enough, the balloon would expand to its limit that it is a matter of bursting with a great bang. This all takes great focus, patience, and perseverance.
Have Fun! All of the points mentioned above are very important but the most important of all is waking up every day, having given yet another chance to do the thing you are passionate about, a chance to really make difference and advance the industry which will then advance the humanity as a whole.
Foundation for Innovation Nurturing Ground
Now that you have successfully iterated over and over, gained the needed early adopters to become mainstream for mass audience, and as a great side effect, you are rewarded with profit. The profit must continue to help create disruptive innovations that deliver usefulness and value for problems that are facing people by creating a nurturing ground for those talent to create innovative products.
Never Stop Inventing the Next Disruptive Innovation. Do you feel you have reached the top of the mountain? Is your product is doing well with massive adoption? Sadly, there is only one way from top of the mountain: down. This is why you need to never stop learning the latest, try them out, keep engaging the community and watch out for the newest trends, and explore how these new technologies and trends can help bring innovation to your product. Disruptive innovation does not have to be a whole new product either. You can innovate on all levels of business, from hiring, to finance, to product building, and marketing. Make sure to focus on features that is 10 times better and bring about creative monopoly of something new, useful, exciting, and valuable, not another boring competing product.
Pitfalls. Though, more people means more structure and less nimbleness, layers of communications and approvals, that, the mission from the company can get diluted, and there is a plenty of room for greed and fear to seep in, which will introduce ineffective and inefficient.
How can we stop the company from becoming one? All the more so, company must have laser sharp focus on its long term mission: creating disruptive and innovative products that solves problems and make things better, faster, easier, cheaper for the end users, and hire right talents and provide unique, exciting, learning, and fun nurturing ground where they can devote their lives creating innovative products, and also have a chance to grow with the company.
To that end, Peter Thiel shares a few tips from his book, Zero to One: keep the cash compensation (salary) to minimum because cash is a short term gain and keep everyone full time who can be fully committed to the company, and stay away from contractors and part time employees who do not have any long term interest of the company. To him, you are either on the bus or you should be off the bus.
Find the right innovators. Why would anyone put in the same passion, zeal, and hard work in creating that very exciting, irresistible, disruptive and innovative product, from 0 to 1, and not just create their own company and do it themselves just like you did on your own? They can, and some will regardless, but if you have a company that let’s them do that with you, with more foundation, security, speed, and plus help them grow with the company, there is really little reason to start their own.
With the right corporate nurturing ground for talents, it is now time to hire the very talent who shares the same if not more passion and zeal for the mission than even the founders, and has the smart to come up with creative and innovative ways to find solutions to problems.
The secret formula for hiring the right talent? Find the one whom you feel you can choose as a business partner. This talent needs to meet all of the criterias as noted previously: share even more passion and zeal than you for this irreplaceable mission and willing to give everything they’ve got, not blinded by any short term gains, can compensate the weaknesses to each others’ strengths, whom you would be excited to see day in and day out, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week for 3-5 straight years, shares similar likes and dislikes, does not compete but generate synergy where one idea becomes three, three ideas become nine, gets excited to learn new things and explore new ways of doing things, and ultimately trustworthy.
Embedded Natural Feedback Loop. When the company cannot continue to innovate then the greed and fear will creep in and it will start to introduce inefficiency, delays, wastes, and layers. Hence, throughout the company, feedback and review process must be embedded to detect slowness of the innovation, especially disruptive innovations. Detect inefficiency, delays, wastes, and layers. Is anyone looking for short term gains in place of longer term and future?
Structure of the Corporation that Nurtures Disruptive Innovators
Company needs to define clear career progression path so that everyone is aligned and knows exactly what the company needs and expects of them to do. There must be incentive programs that rewards invention of disruptive innovations with company stocks. Everyone has a chance to be a part of a product that is unique, exciting, and generate usefulness and value for end users, or get to create one themselves. And when it becomes really successful, they get to have their own company and an opportunity to grow big. Therefore, I propose the following progression of an ideal innovative nurturing company.
Required minimum skills. Everyone is required to learn and earn credit for the following areas: work ethics, communication skills, email skills, presentation skills, webinar skills, conferencing skills, ms word and ms excel skills, copier skills, project management skills, multitasking skills, budget skills, relationship management skill, managing up/down/side skills, resolving conflict skill, consumer psychology, and last but not least, startup framework and company advancement process, and how creating disruptive innovations is key to success.
Innovation Intern. Everyone starts as an Innovation Intern. They have joined the company because they were so passionate about the very product and care deeply about the users and want nothing more than make a disruptive impact in the industry to advance it. This is their trial period where they get to find out about the company for real and company finds them real as well. They go through basic required skill training so that everyone is on the same page. They observe other ICs, ILs, IPs, and IMs. They begin to form specific areas where they want to focus on. As an II, they apply to projects run by ICs. They are fully capable experts who can be key resources for ICs and IC led projects. During this period, they are measured thoroughly over time for every attributes mentioned as a business partner. Trial period should be at least 6 months if not one year. Are they doing what they said they will get done?
Innovation Creator. ICs go through startup process to invent the innovative product that aligns with the mission and create a working prototype. IC can then apply for the seed money and expertise capital credit. Upon approval, IC becomes Innovation Lead, creates a team name and a mascot, gets ownership of the portion of the product, and goes through typical startup process of finding partners that aligns with the IL and gets the project going with aggressive timeline. Each partner that joins the team gets share of the product as well. The team is assigned an Innovation Mentor who also has a share of the product and has launched a few products, will help identify the greed and fear and help avoid unrecoverable pitfalls, but lets the team fail quickly which is all so very important part of maturation. IM also gets a share of the product.
Innovation Lead. As each iteration completes, IL asks for more funding with the definite plan to speed up the process. As each iteration gains more and more early user adoption, where it reaches the critical mass to tip over to mainstream, IL is promoted to Innovation Product Manager.
Innovation Product Manager. The innovative product is now no longer in beta stage. It is ready to attract the mainstream users. IPM continues the internal innovation, just like the parent did. IPM knows so well that once innovation stops, greed and fear will creep in and from there only decline ensues. IPM applies for it to be broken off from parent company and works with the parent company to prepare this detachment.
Innovation Partner. Once the innovative product breaks off from the parent company, the IPM becomes IP and CEO of the newly formed company. Parent company will hold a share of the company to help with seed money, but continue to mentor and nurture to innovate, and help identify unrecoverable big pitfalls, but does not control the direction of the company since this is the sole IP’s job. The company itself needs to have its own culture of passionate people who want to continue to innovate and build useful, valuable, exciting, and disruptive products to continue advancing the humanity for better, faster, and cheaper products.
Innovation Mentor. IMs are IPs who shares deep passion for mentorship and wants nothing more than launch of more successful disruptive and innovative products. They have gone through a few rounds of both successful and failed products and has learned their way into able to see the big pitfalls that one needs to avoid and recognize patterns of successful innovative startup process and its framework. IMs get to review the proposals from ICs and find the ones that they are extremely passionate about and applies back to IC and shows interest. Upon approval of the proposal, ICs and IMs have a chance to meet and “feel” their synergy, likeness, worldviews, just as if one is finding the business partner. This is super important. This is because IMs get a portion of the ICs product share.
Learning that fuels innovation. Everyone at all levels are required to continue to learn and explore the latest, engage community and fanbase actively, watch out for the newest trends, other disruptive and innovative products, and discover opportunities on how to make the next disruptive innovations that will make people’s lives better, faster, easier, and cheaper and that aligns with their passion. Learning is what fuels innovation. When learning stop, innovation stops. When innovation stops, greed and fear creeps in, generating inefficiencies, wastes, and layers. When things start to slow down, there is only one end, destruction.