That’s What He Said

Brooks Bayne – Innovate, Iterate or Obliterate

Posted in Startups, Technology by wolfsbayne on August 27, 2008

It happens all the time. A business or a product fails, and we’re surprised by it. Still with us is the old-school holdover of your dad’s world and its view that the only viable product came from the innovators and the executive teams who groomed those innovators. Product development was king and customer development, if even discussed, was considered frivolous.

Recently, here in L.A., we had a very public example of the holdover giving us a wink. Andrew Warner, the creator of Mixergy, squeezed out a vid to publicly out his “failure” with Mixergy. I don’t know Andrew very well, but I do like his jackets. I don’t want to talk about Mixergy in the context of failure. My good friend and associate, Chris Gammill, danced with the ugly step-sister of failure here. I’d like to think that Andrew iterated and didn’t fail.

For this blog post, I’d like to draw attention to the balance between innovating and iterating. There will always be innovations. There will always beĀ  iterations of those innovations. In my experience, where the disconnect occurs with many companies, but especially the smaller ones, is the lack of understanding of what drives iteration. You have the innovation, the idea, and you release to the world. Then what? You have to develop the customer, not only your idea.

I worked with a founder in my last company, who thought all development resources should be spent innovating with every release cycle. The problem with this is that the customer never gets a product revision that meets their needs. As soon as a product is released, the customer needs to be engaged. Period. The customer profile that you’ll need to engage is the early adopter and the evangelist. I don’t know if Andrew engaged those two types of customers, but I do know that many people in the community, including me, had no idea that Andrew was developing Mixergy to be a competitor to Evite.

When we create a product or service we get so focused we “can’t see the forest for the trees”. Even large companies deal with this problem. My friends at Microsoft, for example, refer to the “Redmond bubble”.

My challenge with understanding customer development started back in 1997 when I was a new CEO brought in to replace one of those old-schoolers who couldn’t execute in a new space. I recall trying to get beyond the standard projections in a spreadsheet to a real world method of meeting those projections. With a startup, in a new space, trying to crystal ball what you’re gonna do in 12 months, not to mention 3-5 years out, is usually an exercise in futility. Through research and experience I found that customer development was a missing component.

Most companies can’t effectively engage the early adopters and evangelists. If that’s the case, how can they then expect to cross the “chasm” that exists between those early customer types and the mainstream market? And if they can do neither, what’s the point of the projections?

I’d like to see more new companies and entrepreneurs demonstrate that they know how to engage and communicate with the early adopter and evangelists. Without those early customers you don’t have a business. Based on my experience, I’m certain most advisors, directors and investors don’t understand that engaging early adopters and evangelists requires a different method of engagement than crossing into the mainstream customer. Don’t assume this is understood – it usually isn’t. Most attention in the early stages is on the innovation.

Innovation has to be supplemented. This means greater transparency, communication and consideration of your customers.

Good luck, entrepreneurs!

Connect with me on twitter (@wolfsbayne) or at my blog (

Brooks Bayne

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