Several years ago I met Frank. After taking over a recently acquired division of a large public company and successfully stabilizing the business, he worked with his team to reimagine what the product line could be.
He had an innovative approach and a strong vision for how the business could disrupt the market and create an entirely new sector. He understood one of the staples of the information industry – innovate or die. I thought he had a real chance of reinventing the business.
Unfortunately, he failed.
After gaining executive support and a 7-digit budget, Frank began to build his next generation product. He made two fundamental mistakes.
He did not “burn the boats.”
While he understood that you must innovate or die, Frank was too risk-averse to disrupt his existing business with his innovative ideas. He was too concerned about bridging the gap between ‘legacy’ clients and the future he envisioned to burn the boats.
Disrupt or be disrupted applies to yourself, just as much—if not more—than to your competitors. If you are not willing to sabotage your existing revenue stream to achieve the future, you will never eat away at your competitors.
He did not focus.
The second mistake that Frank made was that he failed to make hard decisions. New products that enter a market rarely do so by being “all things for all people.” Focus, as the cliche goes, is all about what you say no to, not what you say yes to.
Frank tried to build release a first releasable product, or FRP, that contained a wide range of features. He was unwilling to trim the breadth of the feature list in order to focus on a very deep, differentiating, core value proposition that differentiated from the market.
These two mistakes proved fatal, and, just over a year after the launch of his business, Frank’s business unit was shut down.
What strikes me about both of these issues is that Frank knew, or at least had been told, that both of these needed to be done. Unfortunately, Frank’s real Achilles’ heel was that he lacked the leadership conviction to make hard decisions and drive his team forward.
In a nutshell, Frank lacked humble confidence. He was unable to listen to his advisors and course-correct as “burning the boats” and focus became issues. He was also unwilling to make bold decisions. Instead, he waffled, taking the most risk-averse approach to his business.
The product innovation business is inherently risky. In order to succeed, strong leadership must be at the forefront.