Innovation and Execution

Research (I can’t find the link) identified two paths to fame for artists. Breaking new ground versus achieving the heights of their art. The former was a route to success early in life, the latter, late.

Perhaps there are parallels for startups. Or any business.

I love startups that break new ground. Create something novel — whether technology or a business model. Make the world a better place. But these are few and far between. Most patents seem to go to established companies. Only a handful follow the Zero to One philosophy.

Most businesses operate in competitive markets. They aren’t the first movers but (sometimes) aspire to be fast followers. Competition is something that drives them to excel. They see the weaknesses of the status quo and create value by superseding existing standards. Even Google started this way, as the best search engine in a crowded market. Their page rank algorithm was an innovation. But their business concept was not.

It isn’t always easy to tell which path firms are treading. Apple didn’t release the first music player. Or smartphone. Or tablet. Apple did create a music ecosystem that was (and probably still is) unrivalled in monetising virtual media. Their App Store did the same for developers. They follow the path of artistic heights in design but their innovation is in their business models.

Now compare Rocket Internet. They apply enormous resources to proven business models. They clearly do not innovate within individual entities but have demonstrated a completely different and perhaps novel approach to business creation and success. Others now follow in their suit.

Like art, first movers in business are only remembered when successful. Barriers to entry are rarely high enough to prevent competition (certain mechanisms, such as network effects can be effective). So even those innovators we love may only be recalled in posterity. Let’s face it, Edison has been held up as a star for far longer than Tesla. Success in competitive landscapes requires excellence in execution. Which takes time and patience but is an alternative path to building a legacy.