Innovating Around a Single Product Is A Terrible Strategy. Here's Why.

Stop building better mousetraps.

Innovating Around a Single Product Is A Terrible Strategy. Here's Why.
Photo by Werner Du plessis / Unsplash
Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Note: The above is a misquote of Emerson’s original words. At some point, it became ingrained in society and is now dogma.

Stop Building Better Mousetraps Or You Will Be Left Far, Far Behind.

The idea is that if you’re able to sufficiently Innovate™ then your Innovation™ will lead to a flood of buyers. The Market™ (are you sensing my sarcasm?) will take notice and money will flood into your bank account.

For readers familiar with my work, you might have noticed how similar this sounds to the Cult of Niche. Find the Perfect Niche™ and hit them with the Perfect Offer™ then watch as your money rains from the sky.

I believe this is fantasy.

I’ve seen what happens in these so-called Innovative™ companies – inside “Product” companies made by Smart™ people.

Oftentimes there’s no product to be found – the company is fugazi.

While You’re Building a Better Mousetrap….

They’re building 5 different mousetraps in 5 different colors at different sizes. They’re building mouse traps specialized for the Northern and Southern hemispheres. They’ve also moved on to rats, ants, and cockroaches. They’ve built a pest-control service and franchised in 100+ countries. They’re a force of nature.

This example is hyperbolic and trite – however, I hope the underlying principle is clear to you: innovation on its own does not make a business.

(We'll look at what makes a great business in a moment.)

“We Focus On Our Core Offering.”

This is one of the most insidious statements a business can make because, on the surface, it sounds so rational. But it’s not. It assumed life is a zero-sum game. It assumes that time spent on rolling out new products means less time spent on the core offering.

Why is that true? What if creating money from those other products creates more time for you by facilitating the growth of your R&D team?

Case Study: The Money Pit Of SaaS Innovation.

Anytime you see a company with AI in the title, you have my permission to roll your eyes. I worked with one of Montreal’s hottest AI startups – who, at the time, was flush with cash and enthusiasm.

They had no product/market fit. Hell, they hardly had a product. It was chaos. They hid behind the power of Innovation™ and relied on black-box magic to persuade others of some woo-woo fictional use case. Often they were able to sell through to other companies who would pass the woo-woo onto their clients in a chain that resembled Greater Fool Theory.

Meanwhile, companies who are doing basic things well are creating economic engines that dwarf the efforts of some of the “smartest” people on the planet.

Successful Companies…

  • Deploy tons of products to the market to ensure high LTV.
  • Their deployment is rapid and iterative.
  • They keep finding ways to integrate deeper into their clients’ lives.
  • They get huge referrals, turning a single sale into two.
  • They price wide – ie. they target the entire spectrum of prices.
  • They sell deep – ie. they upsell as much as possible.

What I’m Not Saying…

That innovation is inherently bad. That innovation doesn't lead to breakthroughs. That Emerson wasn’t right. I’m saying that innovation works, but that true innovation is lightning in a bottle and that in 99% of cases our time would be better served focusing on fundamentals.

And that in fact: when we focus on those fundamentals, we give ourselves time, space, and resources to chase true innovation.

Stop building better mousetraps. Find what else mousetrap buyers need, and give them that. Or better yet, tell them what else they need and bring a flood of products to the market.