Startup suggestion: Know what you’re innovating and limit it.

Startups are known to innovate. In general, that is often their raison d’etre…why the startup exists in the first place. However, having gone through many failed startups, one of the key lessons I have learned is to recognize and categorize your innovation and be sure the risk of innovation is necessary.

The example that comes to mind is innovating a technology/solution and trying to break the norm in the marketing of that solution at the same time. Norms, best practices, conventional wisdom all exist for a reason. Sometimes they can be bested with innovation, but that comes with risk—a lot of risk in the context of startups.

Innovating a technology and a market strategy at the same time is akin to inventing a new language and a new method of education at the same time. The difficulty of the proposition increases greatly—figuratively, perhaps exponentially. For starters, how do you measure progress? How can you assess which innovation is the culprit when learning is slow? Is it the difficulty of the new language, or a problem with the method of education? Well, it would be hard to know, since there’s not a lot of reference data for either—specifically because you are innovating.

Sometimes a startup will be forced to innovate in many ways, and sometimes it makes sense to do so. But a startup team will tend to bias toward innovation too much, too often, too soon. The nature of the team, the environment, the frame of mind, all lean that way. This can also be the result of inexperience in general. Inexperience is directly proportional to attempts at innovation because in a way, even implementing a best practice is innovation to the inexperienced individual. They’re inventing the wheel, even if they have an instruction manual (often named “Google”!).

My suggestion is if the aspect of the business in question is not part of your core differentiator or raison d’etre, avoid innovation, stick with what works, find proven talent to do the “what works” in the best, most reliable, tried and true way possible. Let the areas that really do define your company be the focus of innovation.


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