Entrepreneurs must always strive to remain at the forefront of innovation in order to remain one step ahead of their competitors and preserve their mental acuity.
Small business owners and startup founders who are always evolving tend to garner more ideas, attract more customers, set new goals and boost employee morale. Remaining innovative can be challenging, but for many entrepreneurs, it is stimulating and worthwhile.
Here are ten tips on how entrepreneurs can keep innovation as a priority.
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"You must always be interacting with your customers," said Tyrre Burks, founder and CEO of Player's Health, a Minneapolis-based startup that tracks the medical records of youth athletes. "Shadow them in their role and find our where your product or service benefits their or job. Customer interviews and surveys are huge and can make a difference."
"Sometimes the best ideas are ones borrowed from other industries," said Thomas Nguyen, a partner and co-founder of Peli Peli, a Houston-based South African restaurant group.
"Many of our customer service improvements and renewed focus on company culture were made after analyzing and understanding how Tony Hsieh and his company, Zappos, an online shoe company, took customer service to another level by placing a premium on the creation of happiness for their customers."
"In the early days of innovation, during my work at Zvents, the San Mateo, Calif.-based online entertainment guide, we realized that finding something to do was a search-based experience and not via a calendar," said Paul O'Brien, co-founder of MediaTech Ventures, an Austin, Texas-based economic development of innovation in media, and a principal in 1839 Ventures, a venture capital firm providing financing to early stage technology-oriented companies.
"We learned that people seeking something to do tonight were expecting the experience to be comprehensive like Google," he added. "Building a search engine drove a distinct competitive advantage over anything else at the time."
"Innovation is the alpha and the omega - the beginning and the end," said whurley (aka William Hurley), co-founder of equals.org, a UN gender initiative program to increase the number of women with access to technology and a managing director of Goldman Sachs. "You don't start innovating and then one day you're successful and you stop.
At Chaotic Moon Studios, an Austin-based mobile software design and development company that whurley founded, whatever cool innovation the team came up with wasn't the end of a journey.
"It was the inspiration to go back into the lab with a blank pen and pad and make something even more exciting happen," he said.
The "innovate or die" attitude, which was prevalent throughout the culture, proved to be beneficial. "It drove the company to tremendous success, including the acquisition of the company by Accenture and the acquisition of a spin off company, Team Chaos, by Zynga," he said.
The input from your investors, board members and even co-workers can conflict with the goals of your team. Brush aside all the "noise" and focus on your intended product or outcome.
"Stop giving a damn what anyone else thinks," said Dom Sagolla, director of Developer Camp, a San Francisco-based startup accelerator and community-building organization. "This will save you a lot of time and energy and help you to sleep better. Chaotic Moon Studios judged things entirely by whether we personally thought it was cool or not. We slept like babies and crushed it like candy."
My first exercise to keep an innovative mindset is to unleash my imagination and ask "what if this existed, what if we had that, what would it look like, what would it take to get it and how would it impact the community?" said Kim Bond Evans, CEO and founder of Seremedi, a Houston-based patient health care tech company.
"As I'm an artist at my core, my innovation process is more like an artist than an engineer," she said. "Both artists and engineers move ideas from the abstract to the concrete and maybe this is where they both intersect."
After accomplishing both a full distance Ironman and running an ultramarathon (50 miles), Nguyen said he understands now that perceived physical limits and mental barriers can be broken.
"Once this is done, it is amazing how your mind is retrained to allow itself to think bigger and better, which is a common precursor to innovation," he said. "When you endure physical and mental pain such as a 50-mile run, it will strengthen your mind to better handle the stresses associated with having your own business and being an entrepreneur. It teaches you how to force your body and mind to continue pushing itself, all traits that help make you a better entrepreneur."
Running also added benefits, giving entrepreneurs a break from constant communication.
"It frees my mind because there are not any emails to check or phone calls to answer," Nguyen said. "Some of my best marketing ideas have come to me during a run. It's a great stress reliever as well."
Maintain your previous hobbies or other pastimes. Devoting all of your mental and physical energy to your new or current venture can create roadblocks instead.
"Whether it is an instrument, a sport, a game or another healthy form of play, this activity will keep your brain active and in a learning mode," said Sagolla. "We played StarCraft at DollarApp and Diablo at Chaotic Moon. We have gaming night at Developer Camp. I have been playing guitar for a quarter century and it has never failed to challenge me and make me take risks."
Innovation is developed in many different ways, depending on the individual.
"It is one part simplicity, one part constraint and the rest is pure craftsmanship," he said. "Learning is the fundamental key to innovation. Stay curious, imaginative, weird and happy. As any journeyman will tell you, enjoy the process because in the end that is all you have."
Before implementing a new strategy or concept, wait a few days or even weeks before executing it.
"After I've formulated a plan to create something new and before I consider it fully baked, I do what many musicians do when they are creating music," said Bond Evans. "I step away from it to leave room for inspirational ideas I had not previously considered. Some musicians describe this creation process as 'not making it too perfect, leave room for God.'"
"If you keep everything around you the same, your way of thinking tends to stay the same as well," said Julian Kurland, who founded BillFixers, a Nashville-based company that negotiates monthly bills for consumers. "Just walking around the block can sometimes be enough to trigger that eureka moment. Though the majority of the work we do at BillFixers gets done inside the office, most of our best ideas have come after we've stepped out the door."
What's Hot On TheStreet
Tesla still doesn't deserve it valuation: Tesla (TSLA) fanboys have just gained their daily pound of flesh. The electric car company has reportedly reached a deal with officials in China to open a production facility in the world's biggest clean-energy car market. The deal would likely allow it to form a joint-venture with a China-based partner and avoid the 25% tariff applied to imported vehicles. The move would also substantially cut shipping and production costs when compared to Tesla's facility in Nevada, TheStreet's Martin Baccardax reports.
Tesla is now valued at an insane $61 billion...and counting.
What was this Kroger exec drinking: Maybe this Kroger (KR) fella has been up too late studying the aftershocks of Amazon's (AMZN) big deal for Whole Foods (WFM) . "I'm glad their stores are finally open," Kroger CFO Michael Schlotman said about German rival Lidl at Oppenheimer's Consumer Conference Wednesday. Schlotman said he is excited, in fact he feels "great about it," to finally start seeing if the preparations Kroger put in place to compete with Lidl will stand the heat. TheStreet's Lindsay Rittenhouse was all over this bizarre exchange.
Having your profit margins crushed by a ruthless German grocer shouldn't be exciting, Kroger.
Don't forget about Intel: Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) may beat Intel Corp. (INTC) to selling the fastest computer chip this year, but the technology giant is working on other projects that are pushing the limits.
From artificial intelligence to drones, Intel is working to connect everything to the internet to collect data that can be used to improve safety, efficiency and lifestyles. Whether it is helping athletes perform better or making cars autonomous, Intel's technology is working to transform multiple industries. Here's 11 cool projects Intel is working on that investors seem to have forgotten about.
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