Once you’re a successful disruptor, how do you grow without losing the innovative spirit that got you here? This was an underlying theme of “The Art of Innovation” panel I had the pleasure of moderating at the 2016 US Strategic Growth Forum™, the US’s most prestigious gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies.
It was great to be part of a panel comprised exclusively of successful women CEOs to talk innovation and building businesses – and not just about gender. Two of the panelists are alums of the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women program, which helps women entrepreneurs scale their companies and makes panels like this one much less rare.
As we spoke about their innovative business models – all four panelists run companies that are disruptors in their industries – we explored the question on many people’s minds: how do you disrupt your industry, stay focused on growth and continue to innovate? In short – once you’ve achieved initial success, what’s next?
Sell to grow
Panelist Jaime Kern Lima of IT Cosmetics has answered this question through a transaction. She recently sold her fast-growing cosmetics company to industry giant L’Oreal. Jaime remains CEO, and with the power of L’Oreal’s global infrastructure behind her, she can now enter new markets and anticipates explosive growth in the years to come. It’s a great example of how corporate venture capital and alliances with major players can give disruptive companies a boost to scale, while helping more traditional companies pivot into new markets and innovate through osmosis.
Find the jobs to be done
But what of growth that comes through new products and services? Outdoing yourself isn’t easy. A second effort that doesn’t live up to the promise of the first creation isn’t exclusive to musicians and novelists. How do disruptive companies keep out-innovating the competition once they’ve had their first successes?
The “Jobs to be done” theory has helped panelist Amy Chang of Accompany stay focused on what her customers want. It describes how customers “hire” products to solve a problem – that is, to do a job. Using this framework to analyze customer and market data, companies can continually develop products that are tailored to what consumers already want to do.
Don’t fake it
Panelist Clara Shih of Hearsay cautioned that in search of growth, it can be tempting to chase the latest fad masquerading as real consumer change, but that’s a mistake. Consumers are smart and can smell insincerity. Don’t try to fake authenticity; instead, make business decisions and product changes in line with your brand, your story, and the “why” of buying your product.
Kara Goldin of Hint Water put it perfectly: “The best entrepreneurs didn’t have the perfect product when they launched, but were willing to watch and listen and change.” By shifting her focus from competing for grocery store shelf space to ecommerce, Goldin has put this into practice, and ecommerce now accounts for 40% of Hint’s business. In the process, the company has gained invaluable customer data for future use.
It’s abundantly clear that innovation is not just inevitable; rather, the opportunities it creates are accelerating. As a result of ubiquitous technology, entrepreneurs can create new businesses or become disruptive forces much faster. But even disruptors can be disrupted. Within this charged environment, finding ways to scale while staying innovative is not simple, but as I saw firsthand at the Forum, it is possible for the ingenious entrepreneur. And these four women are leading the way!
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