Tuesday March 26, 2013 0 commentsBy Bill Van Eron
Chief Innovation Bush Pilot, Headwaters Marketing
Funny how time flies by faster and faster as we get older and in general. While whoever is playing with that clock seems malicious, the impact on entrepreneurs is far greater.
In the old days - like even 10 years ago - new product ideas often had a safe window of time to explore, test, refine and launch new products. Two years on average was thought of as safe.
Lately, windows of (market) opportunity seem to have been cut in half. Certainly, time sensitivity impacts most new products as the rate of technology advancement increases. I have seen a local company with a great product idea four years ago stay in test mode.
Now, multiple competitors entered the space with lesser solutions that still meet the market's acceptance-and-use requirements. That has to hurt. Allow me to suggest what I believe the implications of shorter timing really are:
This may not affect everyone with a new idea, as some industries and innovations are still on an acceptable longer development track. Certainly medical, pharmaceutical and bioscience still are OK. But it does affect people selling new ideas to decision makers who are largely innovation resistant. That is far more widespread than one would hope.
But it does impact the entrepreneur in many ways. Bigger companies are looking at smaller markets.
It used to be if a market was under $50M, the larger companies would not pay much attention. That has changed, as large companies go after smaller markets, some even in the $10M range. So smaller companies investing in these markets can be at-risk upon establishing sales traction that a larger company with deeper pockets will blow them out of the water. That puts greater importance on having patent protection so at least if your exit strategy is to get bought out, it may happen faster and yet still be rewarding.
Shorter windows of opportunity mean faster development tracks.
I say this without any doubt: Entrepreneurs with a sound idea need to be able to prove out, develop and launch that idea faster than ever before. While most of today's innovation support systems average a year to a year and a half in development, we all have to look at how and where we can shorten that requirement. It can be done.
Supporting innovation requires innovation.
We all know we can't do something the same way and expect different results.
The game has changed, bigger challenges await and market forgiveness -- if your MVP falls short-- is rather low. The way most current methods are applied to help prepare innovative entrepreneurs is starving for fresh thinking, broader value integration and higher-impact solutions now.
Most solutions have either long timelines, are expensive or require significant diversion from a business, such as to raise funding, travel to seven-day or multiple-weeks planning sessions or attend jammed conferences. From an innovator's perspective upon analysis of the problems and opportunities, I can say with great confidence that all this can change for the better -- and soon. It simply has to.
There has been a lot of attention on the book The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. It is a significant step in the right direction, yet not ready - in my opinion - as a true solution as it stands today. Theory often precedes practice, but properly integrated new thinking plays a key role in elevating our expectations and performance -- which is great.
The road much travelled or bush pilot: What's right for you?
As a person who has been in marketing all my life - well over 40 years - and consistently done well in the most demanding environments, I am the first to say I know what worked in the past may not be the path to take today. Sure, some things are universally essential - compelling value proposition, testing critical assumptions, engaging yourcustomers and stakeholders - and so many entrepreneurs fail at that (my guess is about 65 percent).
Marketing is changing at a thrilling pace and for the right reasons. I always hated intrusive marketing or companies that treat consumers like idiots with controlled one-way dialogs. You have to understand those reasons to be a bush pilot.
The market-inspired push for transparency alone has created an environment where companies who rough it (go beyond the norms) and prove themselves as standing for something are sought out and supported.
I see so much emphasis today on looking cool, and to that end some great local design. While I love good design, I know that alone does not necessarily prepare you for the demands of the bush. Customers worth finding by getting through the bush (same-old, same-old ways, superficial approaches) see through cute slogans and chew out "clever" like a paper shredder.
The paved road may still work in some mainstream markets such as automotive, real estate (boring), banking and others where folks in that industry are told how to drive if you want to play (often at their own expense). But looking at most entrepreneurs, that's simply not you. When's the last time you put your marketing on cruise control? You can't.
It takes a bush pilot to steer your marketing through a changing set of challenges, opportunities and narrower windows of opportunity.