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3 Things Coca-Cola, AWS And Smartsheet Taught Me About Innovation

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In today’s market, companies that are not constantly evolving or changing go extinct very quickly. Back in 1950, the average age of a company on the S&P 500 was 60 years old; today, it’s 20. With so many companies failing, disappearing, or getting consolidated, transformation is critical for businesses seeking to survive, let alone compete and win.

To be successful in product innovation, start with the customer and work backwards to determine the products you need to design and build.Smartsheet

Some companies are really good at transformation and continuous innovation; disruption is built into their DNA. Others struggle with their legacies of success, becoming overly focused on self preservation, which leads to slow decision making and aversion to risk.

But it’s not impossible for large companies to reinvent their business; indeed, it’s essential for their survival. During the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to work at three amazing companies — all very different — each of which has been integral in transforming their industry.

Through these experiences, I learned important lessons about innovation and business transformation that can be applied to almost any company. Here are three critical keys to success:

1. Start with the customer

To be successful in product innovation, start with the customer and work backwards to determine the products you need to design and build. Only by truly understanding your customers can you deliver products that they will love.

When I worked on Coca-Cola Freestyle, we knew we had to start with the consumer and figure out what they wanted, so we did a ton of research. We started with focus groups in five different cities, five groups per city, all different age groups and demographics. The insights we gathered in these sessions informed our quantitative research, in which we ultimately talked to more than 7,000 consumers.

By truly understanding consumer preferences, we were able to build the Coca-Cola Freestyle in a way that appealed to consumers, with striking results: Installing a Freestyle machine led to increased beverage sales for restaurants by 17- 20 percent, and increased Coca-Cola sales volume by 30-40 percent in those locations. What’s more, about 25 percent of consumers who knew about Freestyle told us that they chose which restaurant they went to based on whether it had a Freestyle machine!

To innovate at Smartsheet, we set out to understand what problems our customers are trying to solve and then build solutions that help them do that. Smartsheet is a cloud-based work-execution platform that makes it easy for anyone to get work done without having to wire together a bunch of other tools. Today, most of the companies chasing this market overestimate the technical bar that most business users can clear, which results in overly complex products that are not easy for most business users to adopt. At Smartsheet, we really focus on how we can meet the needs of the average business user.

Every time we build a new product, we start by writing a document called a “PR/FAQ” (Press Release/Frequently Asked Questions”), which outlines what we’re going to build — and why — before we actually go to code (an exercise I brought with me from Amazon.) This means we create the story that we want to tell customers on the day the product launches — before we actually build anything. Then, we iterate on the press release until we like what it says about the product and how it solves a problem for the customer. We validate it with existing customers. Only when we’re satisfied that what we have is the right product definition do we begin work on building the proposed product.

2. Small independent teams move faster

Once you determine what to build based on research and customer feedback, assign a small team to the project and empower them to make decisions and innovate. Keeping the team small and focused helps prevent scope creep and eliminates the management overhead required to coordinate work across a large group. It is important to establish mechanisms for the team to escalate when they need help, but try to limit the amount of energy the team has to expend reporting up. This will speed innovation.

To develop Coca-Cola Freestyle, I built a small dedicated team that was completely isolated from the rest of the organization. We reported to a board of advisors on a quarterly basis but were empowered to make decisions without having to ask for permission.This was pretty game-changing, as it allowed us to move fast, experiment and learn, and be singularly focused on capturing the opportunity we saw in the market.

Coke’s idea of isolating a small, scrappy team to work on product innovation is the Amazon model as well. In fact, Amazon has a name for it: a “two-pizza team.” Almost every new service that starts at Amazon starts with a two-pizza team — a team small enough to feed with two pizzas.

Small, scrappy teams can help you make better decisions by forcing you to make trade-offs based on the constraints faced by the team. They’re better able to innovate quickly and course correct as needed to keep the project on track.

3. Take a long view

Another key to supporting innovation is to take a long view of the business. Rather than expecting an immediate return on an innovative new idea, focus on how you’ll develop the product to best serve your target market.

At Amazon, they take a very long view of the business. When we launched a service at Amazon, no one was pushing us with the question: How fast can you get to profitability? Instead, the discussion was framed around:

●    What’s the market you’re going after?

●    How much of the market do you think you can serve with the MVP (Minimum Viable Product — the first, solid foray to market)?

●    Where do you think you’d go after that?

Rather than worry about getting a very quick return on investment, the idea is that if we build meaningful, compelling products, we’ll figure out how to make money over the long term.

At Smartsheet, we not only take a long view of our business, but also encourage our customers to do the same. For example, when customers come to us for a solution, we try to understand the problem they are trying to solve or the pain point they want our help to address. This deep understanding enables us to build solutions that are both opinionated and flexible. We bring best practices to the table, along with a real point of view on ways that our customers can change how they work, and how we can help their businesses innovate faster as they navigate a constantly changing market — now, and into the future.

Gene Farrell Gene Farrell Brand Contributor

Source: 3 Things Coca-Cola, AWS And Smartsheet Taught Me About Innovation

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60% of Small Business Owners Never Apply for Funding to Support Innovation

60% of Small Business Owners Never Apply for Innovation Funding

The Creating Wealth through Business Improvements report from BMO Wealth Management reveals 60 percent of small business owners never apply for funding to support innovation.

With the development of digital technology and advances in smartphones, apps, artificial intelligence, and social media to name a few, small businesses have to support and implement the latest innovation as quickly as possible. According to the report, innovation drives financial success for businesses of any size.

This is especially true for small businesses because the right innovation allows for the creation of new products, services and marketing as well as ways to reach consumers. In addition to the improved external capabilities, it also makes internal teams more productive.

Innovation Funding is Important

Even if small business owners would like to innovate, they are often either unaware or not capable of accessing the funds they need. In a press release announcing the results, Tania Slade, National Head of Wealth Planning at BMO Wealth Management (U.S.) explained the importance of access to information for small businesses.

Slade said, “Having access to information about funding options and support networks is essential to the continued success of a small business, particularly in its early stages. Business owners who take advantage of the numerous resources at their disposal have an immediate advantage, and a far greater chance of seeing their innovation initiatives realized.” The challenge is funding, but small business loan numbers are looking much better today.

The report comes from a survey conducted with the participation of 1,021 small business owners across the US. They were asked about keys to innovation success, experiences funding their innovation through business loans and grants, and knowledge of and participation in accelerator and incubator networks.



Key Findings

As to the 60 percent of small businesses which never applied for funding, owners gave a number of explanations for never seeking the capital they needed. More than a third or 36 percent said they didn’t want to incur additional debt, while 22 percent believed they would be rejected. Another 21 percent stated the process was too complicated.

Alternative sources of funding were also explored in the survey, including government grants and incubator and accelerator networks.

When it came to government grants, 34 percent of responding small business owners said they were not aware grants were available. Of a reported 44 percent who did know, they didn’t know where to apply.

The number of small businesses who were not aware of incubator and accelerator networks was high — 63 percent. And there was also a gap in this knowledge between men and women. Specifically, 72 percent of women entrepreneurs said they weren’t aware of funding options  from incubator and accelerator networks while only 54 percent of male entrepreneurs seemed unaware.

Why is Innovation Important?

The number one reason given by small business owners for implementing innovations in their organization was to meet the needs of clients. Sixty-nine percent of respondents gave this as the reason for innovating. Meanwhile, 61 percent said innovation was important  for maintaining growth while 60 percent said it was necessary to create a better product.



The report further indicates older entrepreneurs looked to improve the client side of the business, while their younger counterparts were focused on creating better products or services.

Key to Innovation

In the survey, business owners identified four keys to innovation. Sixty-six percent of respondents indicated funding was most important, while 64 percent said it was networking. Another 61 percent said partnerships with staff were the key to successful innovation while 40 percent identified mentoring programs as most important.

So how do small business owners continue to innovate? In the report, BMO makes the following suggestions:

  • Join a local Chamber of Commerce and attend monthly events.
  • Seek counsel from local banks to get an overview of potential loan options.
  • Read small business blogs which often highlight local, state and federal funding programs.

Conclusion

In today’s highly competitive and technologically evolving economy, small business owners can’t stop innovating. As the report rightly points out, “Innovation should be a never-ending process.” And getting informed is the best way to do it.

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