4 Critical Innovation Tips for Startups

Filed Under Innovation

Four Critical Innovation Tips for Startups

August 4, 2014

Before the funding rounds and investors come into play, startups don’t usually have access to the same resources established businesses do. Money, business expertise and experience, contacts, well-established brand value, and above all, a loyal customer base, are the foundational elements of keeping a business alive. But what are startups supposed to do to differentiate themselves before they have the resources they need?

While clambering through the trenches, innovation is what allows startups to compete as viable competitors. Smart startups do things differently from their more mature competitors, and, in the process of doing so, they have the opportunity to develop their expertise and a loyal customer base.

Innovation, however, is easier said than done, and it goes beyond visualizing or getting sudden surges of inspiration. Here are four critical innovation tips for startups that want to truly set themselves apart.

1. Follow the Right Approach

Innovation requires letting go of predictability and control, while also being able to think differently. However, innovation is not making blind leaps of faith or taking wild risks, either; rather, it’s an exercise in risk management that requires a structured and logical approach.

In this sense, startups have a distinct advantage over established companies. Long-standing companies don’t want to tinker with a flow that’s proven to work well, whereas startups can experiment earnestly with trial and error in an effort to find better ways of getting things done. Taking it a step further, applying mind mapping techniques to innovation efforts allows startup entrepreneurs to undertake this feat in a structured way. A good mind mapping platform allows the brainstorming team to cover all bases and variables, understand the relationship and the time constraints of each variable, and take each eventuality to its logical conclusion. Mind mapping, when used in a startup culture, can foster the intersection of structure and creativity.

2. Involve the Customer

Startups usually target new wants and needs, or they target changes in wants or needs that existing businesses cannot or do not fulfill. For instance, there might be a market for an enterprise sales automation solution, but there might only be room for a solution that is targeted strictly to small businesses, or some other innovative service not offered by existing players. Understandably, the reason most startups are founded is because someone sees a gap in the current landscape and wants to fill it.

Startups would benefit from engaging customers early in the process. This can be gathering feedback from beta users, conducting pre-launch surveys on the targeted market, and much more. The feedback can offer critical insights that become the foundation for innovation. Using an innovation platform allows the team to collate ideas from various sources and sustain the innovation process; in short, this makes innovation intelligent and structured.

3. Adopt a Hands-on Approach

Innovation never succeeds in isolation. A hands-on approach to business allows innovators to gain critical insights into voids in product or service delivery. As a way to identify and address those missing pieces, startups should use business prototyping tools, and closely study existing businesses.

Most innovation processes start with discovery, move to invention, then into improvement before the product or service hits the market. Many teams make the mistake of moving to the invention phase too early and spending too much time there. It is important to spend substantial time in the discovery phase to understand what drives the target audience, what makes them tick, what turns them off, etc. Leaders should ask: what target markets have this need? Does this have the potential to be a global solution? Is it scalable? Think about the questions you need to ask your team before launching into creation, and use the answers to determine next steps.

A solid practice in consumer and market research offers the best foundation for innovation.

4. Develop the Right Culture

Finally, the success of any innovation depends on its incubation in the right culture.

Startups have yet another advantage in this arena, because they can develop a culture they like without the arduous task of changing an existing culture. The success of innovation depends more on transparency and accessibility to information, as well as an open flow of ideas across the organization. Equally important is a system that acknowledges and rewards the contribution of each participant. However, simply wishing for such a culture is not enough. It requires policies to back it up and a platform to enable it.

Innovation is seeing the bigger picture outside existing walls. Organizations, especially startups, still need to define innovation to fit their own goals and limitations. It takes a structured and logical approach powered by smart practices — such as mind mapping and crowdsourcing — backed by a robust innovation platform, in order to reconcile these conflicting dichotomies.