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Innovation is more than just whiteboard, post-its and bean bags

Our COO, Erik Leung’s thoughts on how the crucial parts of scalable innovation often are overlooked and suppressed by the glorified “great billion-dollar idea”

The modern perception of Innovation

Throughout my career, I’ve had a close relationship with different organizations that work with innovation. I have worked closely with the innovation lab at my previous job and I was also an active participant of different hackathons and the startup weekend. The next natural step for me was to eventually quit my job and begin life as an entrepreneur. I mean, that’s the only way to take my innovative mind to the next level, right?

Life as a founder has brought many new perspectives of innovation to me and it has not just changed the way I build new products, but also the way I see innovation in general. Especially how it has been portrayed in Norway.

Every September, there is the Oslo Innovation Week, which brings the whole startup and innovation community together. Here you can find a research unit of large organizations, startups, investors, and even representatives of Innovation Norway. There are many talks, hackathons, and different events that remind us why innovation is important. Some even go as far as preaching “innovate or die”.

A general misconception about innovation (at least what I used to think) is that it’s about doing things differently (What can possibly go wrong with that, right?). You gather a group of people from different backgrounds, such as designers, engineers, and stakeholders, jam their heads for a few sessions where post-its are flying around and end up with some cool solution that the world unknowingly is craving for. Oh my, how wrong I was! It’s the hard work beyond the initial idea generation that is the core of innovation, and that is often overlooked.

The importance of market and execution

First, it was the viability of the product, we touched rarely upon the potential market size of the solution. Yes, there are often stakeholders who represent the business side in the workshops, but they tend to speak from their perspective of whether something is viable. Of course, something that was designed exactly as they liked it (enough input from them during the brainstorming sessions) is going to get their go, but could we say the same for customer number two and three?

Then it comes to the execution. Just because the group is good at designing the solution, doesn’t mean the group is equally capable of carrying out the development. Too many startups have failed not because of their idea doesn’t work, but because they stumble upon hurdles during development.

The fun begins once the product is launched, that’s when sales and marketing, business model and partnerships are formed in order to survive the competitor landscape. Remember that the success of McDonald’s was not because of their yummy burgers, but simply a bulletproof business model that can scale. The scalability of the product and the business is what makes the growth sustainable.

Simplifai is now past the growth phase and entering into the scaling phase. To ensure the sustainability and scalability of the business and products, we have to make decisions that may balance the pace of developing new features and how radical the new solutions can be with what the market is willing to accept as a first step to the change.

As I greet the participants of Startup Weekend, I see the ambition and hope in their eyes. They might think they have come up with the great idea, an idea that can change the world for the better. And that the journey begins on that particular Friday. I smile at them, wish them good luck and hope that soon they will understand that the journey is much longer and tougher than they had envisioned in the first place. Because the earlier they find out and realize that fact, the more likely they are to succeed.