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Innovation. It’s a hot buzzword in the startup world, and yet, when you’ve been working 15 hour days and struggling to find funding, it’s a concept that you may find difficult to actually capture. While defining innovation and what makes for innovative concepts may vary from one founder to another, I think we can all generally agree that it means creating a relevant solution that didn’t exist before, or providing value to customers in new ways.
But what happens when you’re so busy running your startup that you don’t know how to put attention into innovation? How can you let it permeate your brand ethos? Glad you asked. Here’s how.
Look for inspiration everywhere
Whether you’re inventing apps and cutting-edge technology, or are a content marketing solopreneur, you need fresh ideas. One of the best ways to achieve constant idea development is to look beyond the walls of your own industry. I’ve found inspiration for my business articles everywhere from the dentists’ office to old-school hip-hop.
If you’ve mired yourself in your industry by consuming industry magazines, blogs and books, you might be limiting your creativity. Look elsewhere. Walking your dog, for example, might give you an idea about a service to accompany senior citizens on their walks to ensure their safety. Playing a game on your tablet might give you an idea about how to gamify human resources. The world should be your source of inspiration, not just your niche.
Figure out the gaps your competitors are leaving
While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s not very innovative to copy your competitors. If you really want to stand out, pay attention to what your competitors aren’t doing. Maybe you run a startup that makes productivity tools (high competition), but you notice that your competitors seem to be ignoring the college student market. That could be a great niche for you.
You can also use this trick to better market to the same audience as your competition. Visit their websites and see what they’re not doing well. Maybe no one in your industry is really blogging or creating videos. That’s your opportunity to do so, and to do it best.
Keep your eye out for efficiency-inducing technology
Whether or not you run a tech startup, technology should be a part of what makes your business tick. Yes, there literally is an app for everything, but how many of them do you actually use to make your team more productive?
Make a point to keep on top of software and tech tools to find what could help you streamline operations, whether that’s in finance, collaborative document sharing, or inter-office messaging. Test out the ones you like first to see if they actually help you do more in less time, then introduce them to your team and encourage adoption.
Be the David to Goliath
It can be daunting starting a tiny company in an industry filled with behemoths. But the key to innovating, even in the face of well-established brands with giant budgets, is to not be intimidated.
Large companies notoriously move slowly. Getting projects and budgets approved takes time. When market conditions change, it’s difficult to whip around in a different direction when you’re a giant. Your startup, on the other hand, needs to be nimble and ready to react to the market. That may mean making a decision today to pivot tomorrow.
Getting publicity can sometimes be easier for smaller startups. First, find out who covers your space, make a connection, then pitch them your story. Do it in a stand-out way; let’s say you run a company that makes an app for dog walkers. Send a dozen bone-shaped cookies to a reporter to get her attention and make her smile. Then, make your pitch.
Innovate as you go
Too many startups wait to release a product because they want to add extra bells and whistles or get to a place of perfection first. That comes at a cost. Sometimes others invade the space before your product even hits the market.
Instead, release a minimum viable product, a barebones solution. It will get the job done, even if it’s not perfect. As you get customer feedback (beta testers are great for this), you can iterate and improve. You may come up with innovative ideas you hadn’t even dreamed of at the start if you let the product work and see what happens.
Innovation isn’t a given for startups. It takes effort to nurture and grow. Make sure your workplace and meetings are free-form enough that employees don’t feel limited by their environment, and that all staff members are encouraged to contribute to the greater good of your company.