How innovative a startup should be?

“Innovation” is the word most people think of when talking about startups. It’s very true that innovation is what helped humanity make progress over time. But what is innovation anyway and how does it impact a startup? We all might think we have an answer to that, but the truth is that very few founders truly ask themselves this question.

The startup ecosystem usually leads us to believe that innovation means creating something completely new, something disruptive, something that “will change the world as we know it”. Little do we know that such ideas or startups are very rarely obvious from the beginning.

We blindly trust startups that appear promising (disruptive) and disregard truly innovative startups, the same way teenage girls like badass boys more than good guys.

What innovation looks like?

Innovation can simply be defined by making something that already exists better, either in general or for a particular group of people. The world is changing, and together with it, our needs change. That leaves room for improvements in the current products and services to make them fit our daily lives.

For some, this may sound wrong or too little and might argue that big companies wouldn’t have got this far if this is true. The thing is that these companies are the perfect examples for this because we already had several social networks when Facebook was born.

Blogging, for example, was already a good way for people to create content, and not just consume it. However, our lifestyles changed, and we are always on the move. This made blogging very time consuming. With a tiny change like limiting the characters number to only 140, Twitter increased people’s ability to create content. This proves that big things often rely on small and apparently useless changes.

The idea that startups must be disruptive deceives us into disregarding the importance of apparently innocent startups.

Some startups may not innovate at all at the beginning and disrupt later, once matured. This is what Clayton Christensen refers to as “fluid future” in his book “Innovator’s Dilemma”.

Disruptive Innovations have Fluid Future

According to Clayton Christensen, a disruptive innovation is an innovation “that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products, and alliances”.

Disruptive innovations are usually created by outsiders and not the current market leading-companies. This clearly puts the disruptive word into the startups’ yard. So now we know for sure that startups have the power to be disruptive, but it’s impossible to say which startup is going to disrupt a market until it matures.

The fluid future is what makes some startups seem to lack innovation at the beginning and the main reason why they are ignored. We struggle to follow the most disruptive ideas and forget to see what’s beneath our eyes.

Dare to create non-disruptive startups

It should be clear by now that you can’t actually create disruptive startups from day one, but your startup might one day be disruptive, despite all criticism from the early days.

Have you ever had a brilliant startup idea and thought that this surely doesn’t exist? And then you google it and find at least two companies doing something similar? Even worst, a big company like Oracle or Adobe is already doing this. Unfortunately, a lot of good ideas get thrown away at this point, and who knows how many of them would have been disruptive at some point in the future.

Your idea may have a tiny difference compared to existing products. In time this difference may scale up into something big. So what’s preventing market leaders to do the same things you are doing? They need to focus all their efforts on sustaining innovation and competing with their current competitors. Any other step is risky without a proven potential. While they wait for proof, the newly created product gains traction, much faster than what market leaders could do to compete with it.

Conclusion

Ironically we can say that “innovation” sometimes stands in the way of innovating. The word “innovation” stops us from creating better products and services.

We should not be judging startups or even our own ideas by how much they currently seem to innovate, cause we might never know where the gold mine is.

Here, at Froala, we started creating a WYSIWYG HTML Editor by accident. We never saw this as a startup. We just needed one and thought we could use it to bootstrap a real startup. After all, it’s just an editor, but 3 and a half years later it is being used on more than 10k websites and products, some of them with over 1M monthly users. This incredible reach we have, all over the world, made us realize the importance of small things and the big impact they might have on the entire Internet.