Almost all startups start with an innovative product or new approach to the market; that’s part of the nature of having a startup. Very few and usually the least successful ones go with the “me too” approach.
The real challenge is not how to start creative, but how to maintain a culture of innovation when you grow the business. Most organizations have the tendency as they grow to increase bureaucracy and long processes at the expense of innovation and time to market.
When running a company with a global presence in an increasingly competitive and fast-paced industry like mobile, innovation is not a “nice to have” – it’s a “must have.” As the CEO of StartApp, a mobile advertising platform, it was important from day one to figure out how to create a successful and sustainable culture that would always keep the innovative concepts flowing.
We are headquartered in New York, but have offices throughout the globe, including China, Israel, and India. Creating a culture of innovation within our global company presented its challenges, but we always made sure to pursue innovation. There is no specific person or team that owns innovation – it can come from anyone, as long as we empower it.
From there, we tested new ideas and theories, keeping what worked by watching the products that did well, and trying to fix what failed. We quickly realized that the only way we’d truly get better and become competitive in the ever-evolving mobile industry was to develop a process allowing us to consistently launch new products every few weeks.
By developing and launching products numerous times a year, we have been able to not only build, but maintain – and continue to inspire – an increasingly innovative culture. We are now conditioned to launch products in a six-week time cycle, which allows us to get almost real-time feedback from the market (versus one to two years), and learn relatively easily and quickly how products will work and what needs to be fixed.
This is a simple, yet viable product approach; we come up with new ideas quickly, turn them into products that can be tested in the market, and then decide where to take it. If it’s good, we keep it. If not, we kill it or turn it into a better version. If you’re looking to create and maintain your own culture of innovation, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
Creativity and innovation have a DNA. They work better when there is a clear goal or ground rules for what a company wants to achieve. Put some flags to what you really want to achieve out of the potential maze of innovation.
Creating success requires different approaches. Newer companies should come out of the market with different and unique approaches to creating success – not only new products, but also new business models: Netflix subscription vs. movie rentals, free ad-supported apps vs. paid, in-app purchasing, etc.
It’s not just about beauty and sparkly things. Creativity is not just meant to create visually appealing and beautiful products. It’s also meant to be an approach to uncovering business solutions that truly understand the needs of the market and create viable solutions for that market.
Know the power of your team. Never underestimate how important your team is in every aspect of the business. Treat the successful and innovative employees right as much as possible.
Embrace innovation at all levels. If you want to be dynamic, you must appreciate the small ideas as much as the big ones. Always treat beta ideas the same way you’d treat a big product idea and keep your ear to the ground – accept change and encourage all ideas.
Embrace changes in times of success – just this week, I got a call from the head of one of the largest hedge funds in the US saying he was most impressed that we’ve changed our business when it was successful. He said that when the business is successful, most CEOs are focusing only on success. In this dynamic market, it is important to focus on the next products and not just on milking the existing ones.
It’s important to note that if you’re trying to create a culture of innovation, a large part of innovation is change. So, in order to innovate, you must accept change. To accept change, you must be agile, fast, and dynamic; you must really know your industry.
Our industry (mobile advertising) is so dynamic that, in order to succeed, we know we have to always listen to the market, pay attention to what works, and come up with different product roadmaps constantly. Additionally, the whole team must be aligned – from the product team down to the engineers. They all need to have the flexibility to change the bigger part of the roadmap and embrace positive and negative changes and feedback.
To gauge whether our approach to creating a culture of innovation is working, we like to stay open to trying new things and let the numbers talk. We have tens of millions of daily active users and we let them decide what works. We’ve seen beautiful products fail, and others succeed. But the numbers and data have never lied, and we know they will ultimately help us determine what works and what doesn’t. Data analysis can be really helpful for any company to better understand what’s working and where time on innovation is best spent.
Now get out there and create a winning culture of innovation in your company.