Innovation Goes Nowhere Unless You Have a Method to Survive as a Startup

The most famously innovative and successful companies all had to survive similar early-stage mistakes and failures.

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By Constance Aguilar

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Do successful startups share a common formula for reaching the top? If innovation is so tough to replicate, why do companies like AirBnB, Lyft and Amazon seem to follow a similar path? By overcoming early obstacles, challenging industry standards and building on what they do well.

According to Fernando Colman, co-founder of international development agency Rootstrap, there's a clear process to innovation which can be replicated by any startup. I was recently introduced to Rootstrap, and via email interview sought their expertise and experience on driving innovation and overcoming challenges.

"The product doesn't matter," Colman explains. "The process for innovation stays the same. It's much like building a house -- it doesn't matter what you're building. It's the procedure that matters."

Colman would know. Rootstrap made a name for itself by providing an app development template that resonates with clients and produces results. They've collaborated on successful launches for the likes of Tony Robbins, Snoop Dogg and Cash Money Records and have won more than a few awards along the way. Here's what they can teach us about sparking innovation.

Drive innovation by overcoming early obstacles.

Some of the best products and companies have risen from the ashes of failure. Almost every successful startup has fallen on its face at some point. Rather than waving the white flag, however, they invariably dust themselves off and march forward in the face of adversity, never losing their focus nor their drive to innovate.

Before founding Rootstrap, its earlier incarnation, Neon Roots, almost went bankrupt after finding themselves unable to adjust to a project's sudden and unexpected growth.

Related: 4 Considerations at Least as Important as Not Going Over Budget

"After that fiasco, we really had to rethink our working process," says Ben Lee, co-founder of Rootstrap. "Out of those conversations came Rootstrap, which was really our saving grace." Lee explained that after such a close call, the company took a long hard look at what was and wasn't working with business as usual.

"We kind of went back to the drawing board on how we do the work we do. Our goal was to dig up all the assumptions we were making -- even the ones we weren't aware of. Like, why does someone want a mobile app in the first place? What really needs to go into a mobile app for it to be a 'success?' Why are we always taking the client's orders as the final judgment call -- do they even know what they need in the first place?"

Do it new way.

That's where the Rootstrap process came from.

"After we felt like we really understood the bad assumptions we were making and why they were wrong, we tried to design a new working process that fixed all of those flaws. Rootstrap was our answer -- it's like the opposite of an RFP. These days, we don't write a line of code until we've already done the roadmapping and the validation to answer the questions of exactly what the app needs and whether there's a strong enough market for it in the first place," Lee explains.

Early challenges to contain costs and focus on product innovation can bring about unique solutions from startups, too. Founders of IoT hardware solutions provider, Breadware, Daniel Price and Daniel DeLaveaga needed office space in pricey Southern California. They, along with their family-turned-employees, opted to move into a large, secluded house that would serve as their office space and living quarters.

Speaking of high rent, AirBnB founders famously rented out their own apartments in the early days to make ends meet. Instagram almost didn't happen after Kevin Systrom's original geolocation app was universally rejected. Even Apple came close to bankruptcy in 1997.

Related: 10 Inspirational Leaders Who Turned Around Their Companies

Overcoming early obstacles can make a company better, bolder, more determined.

Challenge industry standards.

By finding a broken business model in the taxi industry, ridesharing apps like Lyft have flourished. Likewise, Rootstrap wanted to capitalize on what they saw wrong with the app development industry.

"The power behind Rootstrap is that it's a change in model," Colman explains. Traditional agencies, incentivized to draw out app development schedules in order to generate billable hours, often work at a glacial pace even before demand for the developing app is gauged.

Counter to the traditional model, Rootstrap tests the viability of an app and potential customer base in just three weeks. Essentially flipping the build process on its head and allowing entrepreneurs to understand their app's potential before writing a line of code.

Breadware also sets about challenging industry standards, by helping clients bring their IoT ideas to fruition quickly and effectively. Price explains, "We offer everything you need to make an end-to-end IoT prototype within a day."

Challenging an industry model builds differentiation and allows startups to be more customer-centric. It's a blueprint for success that we're seeing again and again.

Building on their strengths.

Amazon started as a bookstore. In the first month of its launch, they had already sold books to people in all 50 states and in 45 different countries. Knowing that they were good at logistics, reach, and sales, Amazon was able to pivot on their strengths to develop new offerings. They now support a network of sales channels, their own brand of devices, and even cloud computing. AirBnB was a pioneer of the Sharing Economy and now services hundreds of millions of users. By capitalizing on demand for a better way to get around urban areas, Lyft is valued at over $7.5 billion.

Related: We Visited Amazon's New Bookstore. The Innovations Made Us Rethink the Possibilities of In-Store Retail

Thanks to the efforts of their global team of designers, engineers and thinkers, Rootstrap alumni have a 2,600 percent increase in their chances of getting funded compared to the average startup. With an intuitive model which applies high-level software to internet-connected hardware, Breadware's products have been adopted by charter schools and universities to help teach kids about IoT.

Once a startup is no longer fazed by failure, overcomes early obstacles and makes a bid to break the mold, they begin forging their identity. They consolidate and focus on leveraging their strengths, all the while becoming more agile, and more widely adopted. It's a three-step template for innovation that's proven and effective.

Constance Aguilar

Director of Accounts, San Francisco

Public relations and digital content producer specializing in technology and B2B verticals. I lead teams of media and marketing experts and craft compelling human-centric integrated marketing campaigns that engage, delight, and drive results.

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