What Does It Mean To Be An Innovative Tech Company?

A glimpse into what allows a company to remain relevant and successful.

Too many companies are trying to change the world by riding on the coattails of cracking the “convenience” code. Relatively simple actions like calling a cab or booking a vacation home through a travel agent have been eclipsed by convenience-driven apps. Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb are the glossy poster children for building success out of convenience. Uber and Lyft commodified the traditional cab company into getting a ride from just about anyone, just about anywhere, just about any time (aka ridesharing). Airbnb achieved the same for travel lodging.

According to Statista, 111 million used the Uber app on a monthly basis in 2019. Lyft boasts a reported 30 million users. Airbnb earned a reported $1.1 billion in the last quarter of 2019. These numbers certainly sound like success. These brands have led the charge for how to build a global company in a world driven by apps. But, being accessible now does not equal long-term innovation. When considering what an innovative tech company is, you have to consider the giants of “now”, the giants of “always”, and the difference between the two.

Uber and Lyft have been racked by multiple safety and discrimination-based lawsuits. Airbnb has (purposefully or not) contributed to a housing affordability crisis in several cities. Additionally, each of these companies has seen staggering losses during the onset of COVID-19. The question remains, will we still know and love these brands 40 years from now?

The criteria for an innovative (read: world-changing) company is in the blueprint of stalwarts like Nike, Disney, and Apple.

Apple

The backstory of the world’s largest technology company and its illustrious co-founder, Steve Jobs, has been documented time and time again in movies, books, and articles. You know the one — where a couple of dudes in a garage, one an engineering wizard, the other an idea man, develop what would become the first Apple computer. The rest is history. Jobs often likened himself to a composer: what he lacked in deep technical knowledge, he orchestrated by bringing ideas to life, no matter the cost. That delicate balance of big ideas backed by cutting-edge tech is what continues to drive Apple today.

Disney

When Bob Iger stepped onto the scene as Disney’s CEO in 2005, the beloved media giant was facing massive competition from other modern animation studios like DreamWorks. Known for classically drawn movies like The Lion King, Disney heavily outsourced for 3D animation projects. In the previous year, negotiations to acquire Pixar had ground to a halt and the studio began fielding other offers. As the brains and talent behind previous animated hits like Toy Story, Disney was about to lose their golden ticket. Iger oversaw the acquisition of Pixar in 2006 and ignited a new era for a creatively-declining conglomerate.

Nike

Nike has a touch of Wizard of Oz to its history. When thinking of Nike, killer branding, inclusive advertising, and quality products probably come to mind. The brand was built on marketing the art of ease — “Just Do It”. Take a look behind the curtain, and you’ll find a meticulously-built organization by type-A movers. Co-founder Phil Knight started out as a Certified Public Accountant and brought his acuity for numbers and no-nonsense business to the shoe world. Knight never got distracted by short-term success and instead aimed for legitimate, data-backed avenues to expand the brand. Innovation at Nike is and always has been driven by front-end coolness and back-end numbers.

What can you learn from these innovators when building your companies and products?

Get the right people in the room and provide a space for great questions.

At SmallWorld, we like to start the discovery process with our partners by asking good questions. These questions are really assumptions wrapped up as inquiries. If you can answer a really bold question, you have a product to start building.

Set success factors early and often.

As Nike has proven, a business can’t grow if you have nothing quantifiable to measure your success by. Set your success factors from the start and revisit them as you grow.

Focus on your audience as much as your product.

It’s a myth that you can only obtain heavy analytics from large groups. Minimizing the size of your test groups allows you to get to the heart of the data and understand why your product may or may not be performing up to par. Talk frequently with your target audience. Are you delivering what they need? Are you delivering what you promised?

Always return to your truths.

We ask our SmallWorld clients — “What are the three components you’re after?” The goal is for our clients to define what made them want to start a venture or build a product in the first place. Frequently returning to those basic truths sets a company up for longer-term authenticity and audience loyalty.

Founder of SmallWorld. Creator of Baseline. Street guest on the Tonight Show (once). Unsuccessfully auditioned for the Disney Channel. Elixir, RN, RoR.

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