The path to innovation and from innovation is fraught with those who failed.

The path to failure runs right past everyone’s office, cube or parking spot at Starbucks. The path to failure is the mistakes we make that in the end lead us astray. Thomas Edison didn’t accept the word failure he just said he found ways not to do things. He side stepped the path next to him and continued on.

For innovators often that is the best course. Ignore failure regardless of how close in the end it is to where you are. Push on into that good night. Do not go gently rather fight and argue. In my book on innovation I talk about the what and why of innovators and innovation. The things that drive the change and the change that is driving innovation out of big companies.

You can now, in the safety of your own apartment, home or even the back of a camper create prototypes in a fraction of the time it once took. You can build reusable plastic components very quickly with a 3-d printer. 3-d metal printers are two to three years ago from moving into the commercial and available space. You can print and draw circuits and circuit boards.

Innovation is about change. In the 1960’s and 1970’s innovation was driven in many cases by Military and Space Exploration federal agencies. Look at the number of companies that innovated for NASA and innovated for the DOD that exist today. There are huge mass market companies that exist wholly because of the halcyon days of the cold war and the space race.

Once the DOD and NASA (as well as non-US agencies with the same goals) were done with technology it was released to the mass market. Innovation today is a small market game. That is the shift that in the end has moved us to the right. What once was the purview of large companies with large markets is now in reality the goal of small companies looking at small markets. Or even a smaller group of innovations looking at establishing a beach head market.

Not mind you that garages aren’t where larger innovations occurred before. Apple, HP, Microsoft and others started out very small. Ideas that had mass market appeal and ultimately drove the mass market. Rather I am saying the market is smaller for innovations now.

Not that there aren’t billion dollar ideas. Those still happen. Every day a new billion dollar idea surfaces. It is more that the innovators are trying to solve a problem they perceive and are sharing that problem solution with others that have like minds or approaches.

There are business terms that we throw around like COGs and ROI. Or terms like TAM and RTP that we consider and evaluate with each solution we consider. Can we in the end reduce COGs (cost of goods sold) through an innovation. Can we get a Return on Our Investment (ROI) in a reasonable time period? What is the total address market we have (TAM). Finally if we do have to lose money in order to gain significant market share or market dominance what is our RTP (return to profitability). None of these by the way matter to innovators. They do in the sense that it is harder for the innovation to get off the ground without some of the overall business metrics. But innovators don’t care for the most part about the business metrics. They have an idea.

How does this new market impact innovation? Where once the governments of the world threw money into innovation now that money is gone. The rise of crowd-funding creates a shared risk environment for the innovator. I can if others like my idea, build my idea with the help of a crowd funding site. I do have shared risk and frankly more real IP risk. I get to build my idea. I could be building my idea for the person that will reverse engineer my idea and make it batter (and ultimately kill my innovation in the market). But I get to build my idea.

Innovation in and of itself is the dream. Patent applications, copyrighted ideas and legal protection aside it is truly about innovating. Being able to solve a problem that you face in a way that makes sense to you, the innovator. A market that is vastly differently. We don’t have the billion dollar R&D budgets available from various sources. There are companies out there with Billion plus dollar R&D budgets but you are locked into what they see as mass market potential. With crowd-funding you are free to build your idea your way.

Now reality says that innovators and innovations should be easily designed, built and delivered. I think the one thing I have found with the various crowd funding projects I have backed and the ones I have consulted with in the end is that they have no clue how the reality of the world works.

They create mythical timelines. Timelines that ultimately get them in trouble. Why? Because they are mythical. The reality of working as an innovator in a large company is that when you go from prototype to production the factory floor is devoted to your production. When you are a small crowd-funded innovation the factory isn’t devoted to you. They have other innovations and products that are being built. You aren’t the big company. You are one of many. I published a few months ago my rules for communication from a crowd funding perspective. I have added a couple more and as an end to this rather long blog I will share the new rules.

Crowd Funding Project Delivery Rules

1. Know no matter what you aren’t the number one priority of your factory partner. IF this is your second campaign and you’ve successfully delivered solutions and the factory made money things are different. First time through you aren’t going to get the service in the time you expect.

2. Communication with your backers is critical. Talk early. Talk often. Talk about the problems and issues you are having. But talk.

3. Under promise and over deliver. If the idea has merit people will back it. Don’t promise the moon and deliver a piece of gravel from the driveway.

4. Trends are not sustainable. Innovations that latch on to fashion, technology and other trends are high risk. Be aware. Unless you are a game changer don’t in the end become irrelevant because you hitched a ride on the trend bus. Your stop isn’t on the trend bus route.

5. Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook.” In fairness he wasn’t. But he also wasn’t honest about what was going on as the VP, and as the President of the United States. Don’t start comment replies with we are working hard please be patient. Give people a reason to be patient. Be positive. Act like you’ve been there before.

Best of luck – you may be the next big thing.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.