Tech has a pattern: after a seminal breakthrough, innovation is always incremental for a while. Until a new breakthrough occurs. Take the iPhone or VR or autonomous vehicles (and something that will come up new and truly innovative). After the initial awe for the new and deeply interesting breakthrough, innovation goes somewhat limited, stagnant for a while and it is okay. The average human, the consumer, takes some time to fully assimilate new technologies and adopt them widely. Humans, after all, are those who will make the decision to adopt or not a new product. That’s when innovation cannot prescind marketing for a successful future.
As innovation occurs, the focus on tech shifts following the new breakthrough: the accelerometer (the small sensor inside your device that figures out which way is up and if you’re in motion) was invented decades before but it was what made possible the iPhone rotating screen the way we know it. Soon after, games, GPS data, augmented reality, and fitness gadgets were all utilizing the same technology. Everybody focused on the accelerometer for while. Later, came AI and machine learning. At this moment, something else is the focus, then soon it will be something else. Meanwhile, engineers all over the world are researching and trying to find new breakthroughs that will, again, revolutionize the industry. Applied AI, robotics, space, you name it, as well as security and the internet of things. It has been the same way since the industrial revolution.
The search for innovation and breakthrough is always going on full force. Such innovation and (the overvalued) disruption may come from something that was mundane, created elsewhere, and a person working on a product has an epiphany on how to use it in a new way or in a new field. Or innovation will come up from steady research on a given field. It may even come from a solution found by chance and usually are pretty simple.
Startup founders, many times, dream a lot about being innovative and disrupting a market (and becoming a billionaire, I know) and it is okay, but innovation and disruption are wholly different beasts and don’t occur as often or as easily as one would like. Some will achieve it, some will not, maybe the “accelerator” you need was not invented yet. The most successful startups and tech companies solved fairly simple everyday problems that had a huge, latent demand by customers waiting to experiment with a new solution. Take Uber/Lyft and urban transportation; Airbnb and accommodations, Paypal and payments, Google and search for information; Zoom and the need to work remotely, and many many more. But also take Palantir and Salesforce that provides B2B solutions. Less celebrated by the general public, they changed the way their business customers operated, providing better, robust services. The solution must be easy to implement, to use and to scale, and fast to solve the customer’s needs. The main marketing element is here: the customer, and serving your customer well, anticipating and solving their needs is what will make a startup successful and effective. Focus on your customer’s needs and how to reach them, not just on innovation, and your chances to succeed increase tenfold. Startups should not just be obsessed with being on the latest trend, including what is new in the market (it risks becoming a copycat), it should be perfecting and upgrading its product to solve its customers’ needs the best way possible and assuring its market: as in any field, it is always better to be the first, like the iPhone. That’s time to think of marketing.
Very few founders think about some of the immutable laws of marketing as proposed by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”(the citation is from the summary by Samuel Woods, from his site): “Law #1: The Law of Leadership -It’s better to be first than it is to be better — If you’re the first one in the market you’re already a step ahead of the rest. The law of leadership applies to any industry, any product or service or any brand.” and “Law #2: The Law of Category -If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in. — Most people are interested in what’s new in the market, rather than what’s better. If the industry you’re in is already saturated and has a lot of competition, you need to start thinking differently. When launching a new product or service, don’t be focused on how this product is better than what the competition has, but rather what category is this product a “first” in. The idea is to always be first.” Both laws fully apply to tech: be the first in your market, not solving a problem better, but solving a problem first.
But consider: a good MVP and a successful, lean operation are already great achievements — how many companies start and fail every year or the product doesn’t deliver? You can always (and will have to) make a better product even if that new tech never appears or appears later. Who knows you will even have a different product idea and reinvent yourself?
If you already have a working, presentable MVP, got seed investors, and your operations are sharp, shift your focus to marketing now, an area many founders left behind many times(consider also how to build a winning sales team and great customer service). Those are key starting points to launch, fund, and lead a successful business. Your startup.