You can still innovate in saturated spaces

I often hear or read that innovating in saturated spaces is too hard. Angels and VCs are typically quick to point out that a space is too populated to invest in and entrepreneurs should look to tread a less worn path. I’ve never particularly supported that logic, so it’s always nice to see a real-world example come along to illustrate why it’s not nearly as hard to innovate in saturated spaces as many will have you believe.

Innovation doesn’t have to be, and rarely is, a case of reinventing the wheel. Innovation can come in the form of a small shift-change in how a process or method is handled. The photo sharing app space is about as saturated as they come in the mobile world. However, almost all photo sharing apps are feed-focused and push-based. You take a photo, it gets added to some sort of user feed, and then you can share it out to your networks, friends, public, whatever.

Povio is a new photo sharing app that just launched a few weeks ago, and on the surface it’s not all that different than most other photo sharing apps, save for one exception. It’s not push-based at all. Povio users request photos from other users, and that’s how the photo sharing ‘conversation’ starts in Povio. Essentially, it’s by request or ping-focused, instead of push-focused. Povio users ping other users and let them know that they’d like to see a photo of theirs, and then they wait for that user to oblige and send it to them. It serves as an example of how a small change in behaviour can be a big differentiator in a crowded space.

Will Povio be a big hit? Hard to say. It’s not a very defensible concept and can easily be cloned or added as a feature to existing apps. It will all depend on how strong and how quickly it can attain a community of users. They were also recently selected to be part of Y Combinator’s latest cohort of startups, so that can only help.

Grow organic base, study early behaviour, foster bond with users and never lose it

As a sort of follow-up to a previous tweet of mine about the importance of harvesting an early organic and small base of users comes a timely article about how Sony studied the behaviour of a small base of early adopters of digital cameras.

While Sony certainly made some mistakes along the way in the 90’s, namely, not paying close enough attention to the nuances of usage of those early digital camera users, it does highlight just how much can be learned during the nascent stages of early user adoption and their behaviour.

Whether you are building an app, a website, a consumer or enterprise SAAS, whatever it may be, truly connecting with and understanding the motivations of your users is a critical precursor for success. No employee, executive or founder is too small or too big to be involved in the process of engaging with and understanding your users better. It’s a fundamental tenet of building a successful, anything.

Another example of this would be Travis Kalanick, founder of the super-successful personal transportation billion-dollar+ startup Uber. Travis to this day, on Friday nights in San Francisco, will often take his Land Rover out on the streets to be an Uber driver. Doing 10+ rides in a night, sometimes dealing with party-goers and very drunken folk. Travis doesn’t stop doing it. This means he is interacting directly with at least 15-30 Uber users almost weekly. Travis certainly isn’t doing it for the money. He does it because the value of keeping a pulse on the connection with his customers/users is absolutely priceless.

A reminder to anyone involved in a startup, small or big. Every user and every customer matters, never lose that connection to your base, no matter where you are and what your position is in the company.

“By putting you in close contact with the private lives of your customers, empathic research helps you see your product through the eyes of someone with values, concerns, and emotional triggers that are different from your own.

This perspective becomes absolutely critical when you are dealing with products that are highly personal–like photographs. So when I worked on a project involving the design and marketing of digital cameras during my time at Sony, empathic research on how the camera and its pictures were used became absolutely vital to our success…

By watching and interacting with early users–people who had started using digital cameras well before they hit the mainstream–we learned that pictures were starting to play more of a role during the occasions and a more casual role at that…

…now that they (digital photos) were “free” and disposable, getting the perfect picture was no longer as important. Sometimes images would then be saved, printed, and displayed, but many would remain in the camera forgotten after the moment passed.

This kind of behavior had not been anticipated by our product designers.

We watched and listened as these pioneering customers used our cameras. We heard them when those products failed to satisfy their emotional needs for spontaneous fun. Empathy also helped us understand why our products weren’t more successful. Our cameras were loaded with excellent features, but we had designed and marketed them with the intention of satisfying a completely different set of emotional needs–those of memory preservation. By focusing on promoting product features we had missed the emotional connection.”

Link: Fast Company

Steve Jobs’ Speech from 1980

Quite possibly my favourite Steve Jobs video. Perhaps only his Stanford speech stands above it. The word visionary gets tossed around lightly these days but there is no denying Jobs’ as the genuine article. He gave this speech 4 years before the first Macintosh computer was even launched, yet so much of what he talks about still applies to the modern Apple of today. At a time when computing power was doubling exponentially every year, IBM was intently focused on harnessing that power to broaden the computer’s functionality. In contrast, Jobs was primarily interested in using that power to make the computer easier to use. Think different, indeed.

Look before you leap, but don’t look for too long

Research is important. Planning is important. But at what point do you just ‘go for it’? And is it conceivable that too much research, plotting and planning puts you at a disadvantage, disconnecting you from the razor’s edge of innovation, creativity and thinking differently?

Don’t worry if you don’t know “absolutely everything” before starting out

Before they launched their car com­panies, Henry Ford and Karl Benz didn’t decide to first spend a decade trying to win the approval of prominent horse breeders or railway magnates. Same goes for the Wright Brothers.

When Google– the most successful advertising business in the history of the world– star­ted their company, their founders knew practically nothing about the inside workings of Madison Avenue. Sergey Brin and Larry Page most likely had zero inside knowledge about famous advertising titans like Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Lee Clowes, John Hegarty or Claude Hopkins. They were just a couple of twenty-something Stanford PhD students, who were far more interested in Internet search engines than they ever were in Nielsen Ratings, Proctor & Gamble or The Clio Awards. Which helps explain why, when the nor­mal, mainstream, industry-obsessed kids of around the same age were just landing their first East Coast internships or junior executive positions at advertising blue-chips like McCann’s, Lintas, DDB or Saatchi’s, Sergey and Larry were already well on their way to becoming billionaires.

I love this story about Bill Gates: Some years ago, when the company he foun­ded, Mic­ro­soft was at the height of its powers, he was giving a lec­ture to some college stu­dents. When the the Ques­tion & Ans­wers came along, a keen undergra­duate asked the ques­tion, “What advice would you give to a young per­son like me who wants to make a lot of money some day?”

Gates’ ans­wer was as won­der­ful as it was short: “For Good­ness’ sake, don’t do what I did. That money’s already been made by me.”


Baby boomers are getting into new technology, on their terms

Facebook’s growth continues to explode, now topping 350M users and still going strong. If there is a ‘secret sauce’ that has propelled Facebook into becoming the most widely used social network in the world, one of the key ingredients of that sauce would undeniably be demographics. As Facebook has grown, it has gotten older. Twitter is a brilliant real-time publishing tool, LinkedIn is equally brilliant for business networking. However, no other social network in the world has managed to weave together all three primary social pillars as well as Facebook has. Those pillars are Family, Friends and Business.

“A study in August by marketing agency iStrategyLabs suggested the number of new Facebook users aged 55 and older grew by almost 514 per cent in the previous six months, compared to 4.8 per cent growth among 18-to 24-year-olds and 24.2 per cent for those 17 and younger.”
– (source: AM1150)

On the research trail for a new venture, one of the things I’ve been mindful of are the wants, needs, usage patterns and behaviours of baby boomers. What motivates boomers to adopt new technology? What turns them away? I recently stumbled across a study that offers some great insights into the baby boomer cohort and how they perceive new technology. Inside the tech world, we gravitate to the shiny new beta-toy on the block and the digerati tweenies/Echos are a sought-after cohort because of their willingness to be on the front-lines of the adoption curve. But talk to investors, VC or otherwise, and they are clearly looking for the next Facebook. While attempting to be the next Facebook is a fool’s errand, aspiring to be as widely used as Facebook isn’t. But before you can shoot for that moon, it would be wise to ensure that your concept is age-agnostic and that means it has to be something a baby boomer could embrace.

“…boomers are in fact active adopters of new technology – but with a unique style driven by two aspects of their character. The first is that this generation lives at the midpoint of life’s cycles: often with children at home, yet also responsible for aging parents. From this center-court vantage point, they see the technology wants and needs of their children and also of their own parents. They’re likely to experience, in daily life, both the brash enthusiasm of youthful early adopters and the deliberate caution of older adults. The second unique aspect is their historical perspective. Baby boomers grew up with technology: they were in their teens to early 30s when the first IBM PCs and Apples appeared, and were the innovators and early adopters of that era (one dinner participant still has the manual for Windows 1.0). Yet they also recall a time when all telephones had wires and were rented monthly from Ma Bell – a time when there were a handful of television stations, and if you turned on the set in the middle of the night, you saw a test pattern. They created their social lives before the advent of ubiquitous communication, when physical distance meant true separation, and if your parents moved to a new state you’d likely lose touch with old pals.

The consistent theme in this diverse group is that boomers want to bring their own values to technology. Boomer ideals were forged in an era when human rights and individual freedoms were central concerns, and boomers apply that perspective to technology as well. They fear that their children, perhaps unwittingly, allow technology to shape their lives rather than using technology to help create the lives they want. Boomers want technology to fit the lives they have made and the values they hold dear.

The boomers thus occupy a unique niche. If their children are the technology pioneers, the first to explore new territory, boomers are the settlers, arriving a bit later to set up schools and libraries, churches and hospitals, to sink deep roots and build permanent structures. With one foot in the future and the other in the past, they are inventing a world for the 50-year-old of the future. The choices they make, the devices, software and services they embrace, will directly inform what is available as the next generation grows older.”

Full study entitled ‘Boomers and Technology: An Extended Conversation’ can be downloaded here: (source: PDF Report)

Entrepreneurs can change the world

dailypixel has been a happy customer for years. So when I heard a few months back that the company had bought a generic domain name and a re-branding announcement was on the way, needless to say I was intrigued. Sure enough in mid-April we received a letter from the founder/CEO announcing their new name, It was a brilliant move to say the least. However, having a kickass brand name / location is half the battle, it’s what you do with it (ie, your messaging) that makes it a home run. After watching this viral video, I’d say the Grasshopper team deserves some serious high-fives!

Incogna hits public beta

I want to give a shout out to my buddy Kris Woodbeck who just publicly launched his baby,! Congrats to Kris and the whole Incogna team who have been working extremely hard for quite a while on their revolutionary visual search engine. Kris is a super guy and I couldn’t be happier for him. If you haven’t tried searching for images on yet, go for it!

Mark Cuban’s rule #1 for building a company

Some sage advice for entrepreneurs from the Maverick entrepreneur himself:

Rule 1 Sweat equity is the best equity. “Taking money from someone else kills more start-ups than anything else does. Do everything you can to avoid taking money. If you must, your best prospects are potential customers. You have something they want, so if they invest in you, it can be a win-win situation.”

via Mark Cuban’s Three Rules for Building a Company

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration can come from just about anywhere provided your eyes, ears and mind are open to it. Where do you go, what do you do to get inspiration for your work? The internet is certainly a great place to go looking for inspiration. Whether it is a blog post, a graphic treatment, a video or an entire web site experience, the internet is a massive potpourri of creativity waiting to be discovered and be inspired by. However, it’s also easy to get lost in the abyss of the virtual world, and the physical world can get ignored or pushed to the periphery. Going for a walk (urban or nature), listening, touching and smelling our environment can often provide the impetus for a new creative path or a creative solution to a business problem.

The advertising industry whose lifeblood depends on the constant flow of creative ideas can occasionally be a great reservoir for inspiration. Here is an old (in web time) favourite video from 2004-05’ish. It’s a video done by the founder and producer of the creative agency – Belief. One of the best points made in this video is when they say that ‘design is an artform, not a job – it’s really a lifestyle’. The same can be said for being an entrepreneur – it’s not just a job (how many entrepreneurs work 9 to 5?) it’s most definitely a lifestyle where your passion, creativity, risk tolerance and acumen are tested daily and like the video mentions, you need to immerse yourself in your work, constantly be living with it and everywhere you go, everything you see, be influenced by it.

Test your beliefs, what is important to you, what do you believe so firmly in that you can’t wait to make it happen. Again, while this video is about advertising, many of the broad points they make can apply to just about any industry or profession. The video is called ‘Pollinate – Chain Reaction’ and it’s all about creativity, inspiration and how to find it.

Steve Jobs’ Historical Day

845603-media_httpwwwjamescogancomimagesstevejobsjpg_HFIusyqkDcCrlHEOh to be Steve Jobs. Whether you love him, hate him or ignore him (pretty hard to do these days) you will be hard-pressed to find a day that compares to the one Steve Jobs will experience today in business.

Wayne Gretzky said the best and most memorable game he played was in the 1987 Canada Cup, when Canada beat the Soviet Union in Game 2 and Gretz had 5 assists in that game. I’m guessing, when/if Steve Jobs retires, June 29th, 2007 is likely to be his best, most memorable day in business.

Yes, today is the launch of the much-anticipated Apple iPhone, and by all accounts we are likely to witness the most successful product launch in Apple’s history. That alone would make June 29th a pretty special day in Steve’s books. But the iPhone is not the only launch for Steve Jobs today. Steve’s ‘other gig’, as the largest shareholder in Disney/Pixar, is also launching their big summer animation blockbuster ‘Ratatouille‘ today.

Just pause for a moment and think about this. A major Hollywood blockbuster – likely to do $100 million in opening weekend business, combined with a surefire successful electronics product launch that will catapult Apple into a massive market and likely to yield millions, and eventually billions in annual sales and perhaps change communications forever – both launches for companies he founded.

June 29th, 2007 – truly Steve Jobs’ Day.