“Investing in Iteration Immensely Improves Innovation”

Wise words from Randy Komisar in closing last night’s VLAB session at Stanford in response to a request to provide a lesson on innovation in 6 words

It aptly summed up the entire session of “Entrepreneurs Uncensored”.   It’s better to test early and often, quickly discovering what won’t work, correcting and improving upon what will.  That message came through loud and clear.

The VLAB panel members were  Marissa Mayer (VP,Google), Tim Brown (CEO, IDEO), and Randy Komisar (Partner, Kleiner Perkins).  Each panelist offered advice on how to innovate successfully, often elaborating with stories to illustrate their points.

Marissa Mayer offered 4 key learnings:  1)  Users- users-users.  (“Launch early and often and iterate; let the users tell you where to go”.)  In the early days, a team of 6 was had been working on Google news.  They had a sliver of time before the launch and the team wanted to add another feature.  But which one?  They debated a few options including search for date and search for location (neither of which was in the planned release- at a time when the search capability was not stellar).  They decided to wait for user response.  Within 3 hours of the launch, Google received over 300 emails requesting the ability to search by date;  in that same time, they got 3 requests for search by location.  The tribe had spoken.  2) It’s innovation, not perfection. That’s what iteration is about.  Get the basics in place and then work to improve it.  3) Technology is divisible.  Keep your eyes open for unexpected side benefits which may be overlooked.  Perceptual blinders may keep you from seeing potential revenue staring you in the face. AdSense was a very profitable by-product of Gmail (and was released before Gmail).  4) Speed.

Later in the evening, when asked about the time individuals can spend on projects of their own interest, Marissa said 50% of Google’s launches come from that 20% investment of time.  Sounds like a terrific ROI.  Her 6 word summary:  Focus on the User.  Prototype. Test.

Randy Komisar told stories that nicely illustrated Marissa’s points. He spoke of one start-up that had approached him with a particular software idea for mobile devices.  Rather than funding the project as presented, he broke the technology down and tested feasibility and interest in subparts (“technology is divisible”).  A quick test of the primary application (“speed) showed lack of user interest (“users- users”).  Prototyping a second piece of the idea was also unsuccessful.  But, the 3rd piece was charmed and thanks to that by-product application,  the company has gone on to be successful. Another insight he shared later on was in situations where you decide to radically change course, you’ll always wish you had done so sooner.  His 6 words lesson was Investing in iteration immensely improves innovation.

With his design background, Tim Brown had somewhat different advice.  First of all, IDEO is known for its rapid prototyping.  He did make a point of saying that it’s important to know what you expect the prototype to do so you know what you will learn.  That may seem obvious but many people miss that point.  His other words of advice:  1) Give yourself to time to experiment.  2) Pick non-obvious things to experiment with.  3) Iterate around your own internal processes.  Companies spend too little time on how they do things  4) Most interesting ideas come from the edges.  Although he didn’t say it, experts are often wrong (although never uncertain).  Those on the edge may be able to see opportunities that the experts can’t see  5)   Have great stories about failures and successes.  That’s the best way to disseminate lessons learned from experiments.  His 6 word summary:  Prototype- learn, prototype- learn, prototype- learn.

Toward the end of the session, audience members were given a chance to ask the panelists for advice.  One budding entrepreneur wanted to know how to go about naming his company.  The general consensus was pick a name and go for it- you can always change it later on.  Marissa added, just be sure it has unambiguous spelling.

So, that’s it for now from WomenovationWominnovation.  Womennovation.

2 Responses

  1. Roslyn July 28, 2010 at 4:38 pm |

    I live overseas and the local company programming/developing my prototype went bust. I have the first iteration…..but now need to find another group to get the project to the next step. Have no clue as to where to go. Any suggestions?

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