I took a call with a few Nokians today about innovation. Constrained by the 140-character limit on microblogs I crammed the bottom line of my hour-long argument into three points. The note started getting comments on Jaiku and pick-up on other blogs, so I thought I’d post them here:

  1. binge on your own dogfood
  2. live by usage stats
  3. iterate like mad

Like @constantine notes in the Jaiku thread, the real decision power comes from executing on this. A lot of people ‘get it’ but that’s not enough.

People also misinterpret the third point to mean you should release constantly without any quality control.

Those folks miss that there’s a progression here: keep dogfooding and only release when you can no longer not release. Then iterate based on what features get usage.

The secret is actually not included in my list. It is to hit the right feature set for launch.

A lot of startups end up in feature-shaving mode. One day they wake up to the painful reality that their product is too complex because they tried out a lot of different ideas.

Although obesity is not a great starting point, there are examples of successful overhauls. For instance, the first version of Flickr was a Flash application with real time chat and photo sharing. Few if any of those early features remain on Flickr today.

I believe turnaround always requires external shock. Often comes in the form of a change in leadership. When I asked a friend on the Flickr team if some specific event took place that enabled the company to execute such a drastic change of course, he replied smugly: “Caterina happened”.

I’ve also been asked many times if industry gatherings are a waste of time for startups. This conversation happened after LeWeb and it seems to recur every time an event splits attendees’ opinions.

Personally I’ve found that events and partnerships that go live on a certain date are great ways to force a big bang release. They help the team to focus and create a building sense of urgency. And it’s gratifying to ship just in time for a party :)

There’s probably lots more to be said. Feel free to add your points to the list.

Comments

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Igor Schwarzmann
December 23rd, 2008 at 10:40 am (#)

I heared, that Dopplr is having this conference-release-cycle and seems, like it worked pretty good for them. Everytime that I visit a big conference, there is always somebody talking about innovation.
And Dopplr is a nice example for the exactly right release of features. They started with a very basic set of features, but made them very good and very sticky.
Since I’m not an entrepreneur, I didn’t experience what it takes to turn around a company, but it seems only in the human nature, that human build construct don’t change by mere evolution. There is always a big need for a major catalytic event to invoke permanent and evolving change. Startups don’t differentiate themselves. At least not in this case.

jokko korhonen
March 15th, 2009 at 6:32 am (#)

I’d like to expand upon your three points on innovation by considering how they map three important principles we’ve identified at Nokia for designing services.
1. Provide consumers membership opportunities
2. Provide consumers tools for describing needs on the fly
3. Provide consumers tools to create solutions
I think these principles map well to your points. This is how:
1. Start-up: binge on your own dogfood (focus on your core competence?) > Proposition: provide consumers “membership” opportunities in what you stand for.
This is about making it crystal clear what it is your enterprise stands for. It is about getting consumers to buy into your vision and the benefits you intend to provide them. This is different from getting consumers to buy into a set of features or even an application. The idea of membership links well with the idea of a brand and consumers desiring to associate themselves with brand values.
2. Start-up: live by usage stats > Proposition: let consumers generate and describe their needs on the fly
The key idea is real-time. Its about segmenting customers according to what they do with your service and not some predetermined business dimensions from strategy or extensive market research. Easier said than done. It requires figuring out what are the parameters of your customer model and then ensuring the right type of data is collected. Very dependent on a critical mass of customers.
3. Start-up: iterate like mad > Proposition: provide consumers or groups the means to create solutions for their own needs.
This is consistent with the previous proposition in that is means being open to new customer desires and situations. It requires attentiveness, agility and flexibility. This proposition would not work if it were not for the first proposition about “membership”.
Make sense? I hope I’ve understood your points correctly.

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