As your company grows, maintaining that innovative knack for growth that got you there is easier said than done. Many a business owner -- at least those fortunate enough to found a company that takes off -- finds him or herself after a few years pondering, “am I still an entrepreneur?”
Successful startups reach a point at which that magic starts to fade, the thrill of the hunt becomes muted and it feels more like regular old business management, as opposed to the run-and-gun entrepreneurship that got them there.
This feeling is often preceded by a lack of inspiration, along with a lack of focus, on what to do next to sustain that growth.
The transition of trying to direct a cruise liner, rather than a nimble speed boat, often leads entrepreneurs to struggle -- sometimes even costing them their company, as the case with Groupon’s Andrew Mason.
The instincts and bootstrapping that got you there won’t keep you there. A more disciplined framework is needed. Incidentally, this is the challenge that brand managers in big companies face every day. The beauty is, by following the innovation equation, entrepreneurial growth can be accomplished in even the biggest organization. And while it’s not easy, it is simple.
To drive successful innovation, three components are necessary: an audience, a need and design DNA, or how you’re uniquely accomplishing this.
In the startup phase, most founders automatically have one “constant” to which they cling. Whether it’s an engineer applying physics to make a new heart valve (design DNA), a coder writing an algorithm for a new diet app (a felt need), or a mom-preneur looking to social media as a way for moms to meet other moms (an audience), their constant is the key to solving for the other two variables.
As your company grows, however, more and more options emerge, making the constant ever-more obscured by an ever-expanding range of options. The way to recapture that focus to lead the organization into the next phase -- and doing so in a lean, agile way -- comes with re-establishing the constant to guide your work.
Is the audience your constant? Do you know them? Can you describe the audience like you would a friend? Can you explain their tastes, fears, likes, dislikes and characteristics?
Do you at least know about them? Can you explain how old they are, where they shop, in which type of community they reside?
For example, if you know them, you may be addressing a group you know intimately, such as classic car enthusiasts. If you know about them, you may be interested in growing your brand’s market share with Millennials, for example. Either is a suitable constant from which to work. Otherwise, move on.
Is the felt need your constant? This territory becomes a bit more nuanced, but the simple summary of it falls with the following two questions: What does the marketplace need? What is scarce?
If you’ve identified a felt need and have a pretty good answer to those questions, you’ve probably found your constant. Don’t forget that second one, though. It’s a common trap for larger organizations to focus on needs, ignoring whether or not scarcity exists that will create a real advantage.
For example, it’s easy to observe that people need energy. It’s also easy to observe that energy drinks are not scarce. So, you may observe that people need energy in a way that won’t leave them feeling jittery. Now you probably have a constant from which to work. You can set about identifying who most needs this, and how you’ll uniquely deliver it.
Is design DNA your constant? A great example of this is when your technical co-founder walks in with a killer new algorithm he wrote (or the equivalent in your world). Now you have the design DNA -- the capability -- as your constant, and your job becomes determining who needs it, and which felt needs it solves.
Any of these three is a viable constant, and a surefire way to lead your team beyond the churn that often comes with innovation in established companies. Simply identifying your constant will not only ensure you create substantive innovation platforms, but that you lead your team towards growth with the best, most competitive foot forward.