Q&A: Brant Cooper dispels the visionary myth
February 14, 2013 | Russ Martin | Comments
Brant Cooper, the San Diego-based co-author of The Lean Entrepreneur: How to Create Products, Innovate with New Ventures, and Disrupt Markets, is coming to Toronto Feb. 21 to give a presentation at Grow Talks, a conference for entrepreneurs.
Marketing spoke to Cooper about the ‘lean’ startup principles in his book, the risks of experimentation and why “visionaries” should be avoided.
What is your presentation “You Are Not A Visionary” about?
We are out to dispel the myth of the visionary, that visionaries can predict the future and know what products are going to [succeed], that they sit down and build out their products fully formed and the market will beat a path to their door and experience overnight success.
Even with the biggest entrepreneurs, the icons in the startup world that are held as being visionaries, that’s really not true. Our philosophy is that big visionaries are actually people that relentlessly pursue the change they want to see. Having a vision is important. It’s a lighthouse you rally your team around. But you have to be flexible. You have to listen to the market.
If businesses shouldn’t trust visionaries, what should they turn to instead? Data?
Data is one of the things that you want to inform your decisions, but data can’t make your decisions. Often a larger opportunity reveals itself once you’re out there in the marketplace.
The lenses we look at are 1) how you interact with customers, 2) are there purposeful experiments you can run to validate or invalidate your ideas, and 3) what data do you want to look at to help you inform your decision-making.
Startups can quickly change and respond to the marketplace. That’s more difficult for big companies. How can they be more agile?
There are people inside larger organizations that are trying to do things, and immediately their managers ask them two questions: what’s my return on investment and when am I going to see it? Those are rational questions, but to answer them, you have to look at existing markets. It pulls back innovators inside these businesses.
What organizations are doing that is successful is launching internal startups. Teams of four or five people that are allowed to behave like a startup. Employees are given flex time where they can choose to work in the startup or the core business.
I was at a Fortune 500 company and there was an organization inside the company responsible for running experiments. It took three to six months to get the experiment approved. Like most experiments, the first one is most likely going to fail. Very quickly, people who are trying to do innovative things give up. They go back to their core job because it took six months to get one failure.
Freeing up groups of people to do rapid experimentation – as long as they follow a set of core guidelines – I think is the answer.
How can marketers and ad agencies benefit from experiments?
What’s interesting about advertising is that it moves so quickly that yesterday’s ideas might not work tomorrow. The key is to always be innovating, trying new ideas. You can try them in very small ways. People get confused about running experiments. [They think] you have to run them against millions or thousands of customers. Early on, you’re looking for emotional responses. You can start with small sets of people and see what hits.
Lots of companies do this with off-brands. They don’t want to threaten their existing brands, so they run an experiment under a made up brand.
You write mainly for startups. What’s the biggest lesson marketers and agencies can learn from startup culture?
Today, to get your message out, you have to not believe in best practices and going to the same tool kit. You have to innovate on the marketing funnel. Try new things, be in an experimental mode.
It’s not just about split testing messaging or the colour of buttons. It’s trying to think of new ways to deliver value inside the marketing itself. It’s not just about the product. The whole trend towards content marketing is that the marketing itself creates value. I think that’s more important than ever. It’s what customers expect.