Leaner, Meaner Innovation

I wrote an article last week for CityOnline and The Mark News.  Below is the full article for your reading pleasure.  Scroll to the bottom to see the video from The Mark News (which I’ve included particularly for you Americans because now that the Olympics are over you likely miss the sound of a good Canadian accent….unless you’re a hockey fan, in which case please don’t hold it against me). Leaner, Meaner Innovation Things have been better for venture capital in Canada. The industry has been contracting over the past five years, a trend that accelerated during last year’s financial crisis as institutional investors started looking for less risky investments. A recent study by the Canadian Venture Capital Association showed VC investment levels at their lowest in 13 years, with Ontario’s numbers dropping off more steeply than other parts of the country. The CVCA says that the industry is “in crisis” and has been calling on the Canadian Government to create a support program to help keep it afloat. How are investors responding to this “crisis” and what does it mean for high growth technology startups in Toronto? As it turns out, the landscape is changing on both sides of the equation and what is emerging is a new kind of startup backed by a new kind of money. 15 years ago, at the height of the technology bubble, it wasn’t unusual for a startup to raise between $10 and $15 million in order to build and release the first version of a product. Today, startups are getting products to the market on a lot less. “Web-based infrastructure means...

5 Considerations when Marketing to Early Adopters

I had a conversation with a reporter last week who was writing a story on how to market to early adopters.  It got me thinking about how much marketing and product come together to improve adoption of a new product or service.  Research shows that there are a set of factors that effect the rate of adoption of a new innovation.  Clearly product characteristics are a critical factor each of these but there isn’t a single one where marketing can’t have at least some impact. 1/ Complexity – The difficulty in understanding the offering will impact how quickly it gets adopted.  Leaving the obvious product implications aside, marketing has a big job here to clearly describe the offering, what it does and when it would be appropriate to adopt it.  Product descriptions need to be short and use simple language – no matter how complex the product (and this is often really hard to do).  You need to answer the question “What do you do?” in no more than a couple of sentences and still be specific enough that customers get it. 2/ Compatibility – Compatibility refers to the degree to which the offering aligns with the market’s current philosophy, culture, and values.  In short, how easy is it for customers to integrate the new offering into their life?  Customer case studies, use cases and scenarios can all help illustrate how the offering can fit into a broader context for customers. 3/ Relative advantage – This is how much of an improvement the new offering is over existing alternatives (and this includes doing nothing).  Clearly communication has a big...

Is Facebook’s Zuckerberg Right? Sometimes Listening to Your Customers is “Stupid.”

There is a lot of talk this week about the new Facebook redesign and how much some users dislike it.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg allegedly said that “the most disruptive companies don’t listen to their customers.”  On the surface this sounds completely insane!  We’re supposed to listen to customers, aren’t we? Well, sort of, sometimes. There is an accepted wisdom in Product Marketing that asking users or customers what the next feature of a product should be almost never results in anything innovative.  The problem is that the answers you get will be bound by the users frame of reference and existing experiences.  For example when I worked at Siebel years ago and we asked customers about what new features they would like to see in a Customer Relationship Management system, not a single one of them said “Gee, I wish you guys would host this thing for me.” Robert Scoble makes this point with the following anecdote: My former boss, Jim Fawcette, used to say that if you asked a group of Porsche owners what they wanted they’d tell you things like “smoother ride, more trunk space, more leg room, etc.” He’d then say “well, they just designed a Volvo.” A better way of driving innovation is to focus on customer problems and desires.  The more deeply you understand those, the closer you will get to coming up with an innovative way of solving/meeting them that isn’t bound by what exists in the market today.  If back at Siebel, we had asked instead: “Why aren’t your sales folks currently using a Customer Relationship Management solution?” or even if...

Innovating Through Recession

Paul Dunay at Buzz Marketing writes a post here pointing to a research paper by Andrew Razeghi from the Kellogg School of Management on Innovating Through Recession. Andrew makes 7 great points in this paper but I love the first one where he states: Listen to the market. It’s quieter when it’s less crowded. Unmet needs abound. And here is the quote I love the most in that section: During difficult economic times, market needs are more exposed than they are during an economic boom when the market is saturated with everyone’s “great idea” – many of which are chasing needs that have already been satisfied. When markets turn south, it’s easier to discern what the market needs precisely because the market is thinking more about what it needs and why it needs it. We are simply more thoughtful, more aware, and more focused during economic downturns. I think it is hard for companies to stay focused on customers when they have their own economic problems to deal with.  During tough economic times, a focus on innovation is more important than ever.  Innovation thrives on constraints.  What is a recession other than a time of great constraint? Customers are trying to do more with less.  Enterprises are looking for ways to decrease their cost of sales, shorten their sales cycles, reduce costs associated with business travel, decrease their need for physical real estate, improve their time to market, reach more customers while spending less – the list goes on and on.  What a perfect time for great product managers and marketers to take a step back and listen to...

Killing a Killer Product in 5 Easy Steps

First of all I have to stay that this week totally stank.  It stank like a poopy diaper, like a bag full of used hockey equipment, like a movie with John Travolta that isn’t Pulp Fiction.  Yes people this week was *that* bad. One of the reasons this week was so darn smelly was that one of the really promising products that I am working on has been suddenly besieged by “helpful” folks that haven’t had much experience with new product introduction.  This got me thinking of all ways that a great product could be managed right into non-existence and I give you this: Killing a Killer Product in 5 Easy Steps Remove the Passionate Leaders and Replace Them with “Professional Management” – People that drive new products to market aren’t like the professional managers you know.  They’re nuts.  They are so personally invested in their product they make Steve Jobs look uncommitted to Apple.  They will get past any roadblock and solve any problem.  They are changing the world.  They might not be the right folks to grow it past $20M or $100M revenue but replace them too soon and what do you get?  You get an organization driven by someone who sees the product as nothing more than a step on his/her personal career ladder.  Will they fight your CEO when he makes a bad call?  Will they be at the office at midnight on Saturday elbow to elbow with the rest of the team getting product out the door?   Will they personally concern themselves with all of the stupid piddling little details necessary to get the...
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