Entrepreneurial Efforts for Innovation Must Fit Your Brand

by Mike Shipulski

Entrepreneurial Efforts for Innovation Must Fit Your Brand

To meet ever-increasing growth objectives, established companies want to be more entrepreneurial. And the thinking goes like this – launch new products and services to create new markets, do it quickly and do it on a shoestring. Do that Lean Startup thing. Build minimum viable prototypes (MVPs), show them to customers, incorporate their feedback, make new MVPs, show them again, and then thoselaunch.

For software products, that may work well, largely because it takes little time to create MVPs, customers can try the products without meeting face-to-face and updating the code doesn’t take all that long. But for products and services that require new hardware, actual hardware, it’s a different story. New hardware takes a long time to invent, a long time to convert into an MVP, a long time to show customers and a long time to incorporate feedback. Creating new hardware and launching quickly in an entrepreneurial way don’t belong in the same sentence, unless there’s no new hardware.

For hardware, don’t think smartphones, think autonomous cars. And how’s that going for Google and the other software companies? As it turns out, it seems that designing hardware and software are different. Yes, there’s a whole lot of software in there, but there’s also a whole lot of new sensor systems (hardware). And, what complicates things further is that it’s all packed into an integrated system of subsystems where the hardware and software must cooperate to make the good things happen. And, when the consequences of a failure are severe, it’s more important to work out the bugs.

And that’s the rub with entrepreneurship and an established brand. For quick adoption, there’s strong desire to leverage the established brand – GM, Ford, BMW – but the output of the entrepreneurial work (new product or service) has to fit with the brand. GM can’t launch something that’s half-baked with the promise to fix it later. Ford can come out with a new app that is clunky and communicates intermittently with their hardware (cars) because it will reflect poorly on all their products. In short, they’ll sell fewer cars. And BMW can’t come out with an entrepreneurial all-electric car that handles poorly and is slow off the start. If they do, they’ll sell fewer cars. If you’re an established company with an established brand, the output of your entrepreneurial work must fit with the established brand.

If you’re a software startup, launch it when it’s half-baked and fix it later, as long as no one will die when it flakes out. And because it’s software, iterate early and often. And, there’s no need to worry about what it will do to the brand, because you haven’t created it yet. But if you’re a hardware startup, be careful not to launch before it’s ready because you won’t be able to move quickly and you’ll be stuck with your entrepreneurial work for longer than you want. Maybe, even long enough to sink the brand before it ever learned to swim. Developing hardware is slow. And developing robust hardware-software systems is far slower.

If you’re an established company with an established brand, tread lightly with that Lean Startup thing, even when it’s just software. An entrepreneurial software product that works poorly can take down the brand, if, of course, your brand stands for robust, predictable, value and safety. And if the entrepreneurial product relies on new hardware, be doubly careful. If it goes belly-up, it will be slow to go away and will put a lot of pressure on that wonderful brand you took so long to build.

If you’re an established brand, it may be best to buy your entrepreneurial products and services from the startups that took the risk and made it happen. That way you can buy their successful track record and stand it on the shoulders of your hard-won brand.

 
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shipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

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