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2 minute read / Jul 6, 2013 /

A Formula for Innovation

One of my favorite courses in engineering grad school was Marketing which was taught by a brilliant quirky professor. On the first day of class our professor wrote on the board this equation:

Innovation = Invention + Marketing

Addressing a group of engineers who prided themselves on their technical skills, this professor of marketing tried to instill in us that invention alone isn’t enough to create innovation.

The invention has to be coupled with a way of understanding the customer, speaking to that customer, educating the customer and ultimately convincing the customer to adopt the invention. Only when the customer base has adopted the invention at scale have we truly innovated.

Aside from customer development, the other the most important component of marketing is timing. Sometimes even the best inventions coupled with fantastic marketing still don’t achieve innovation. Because the market simply isn’t ready for them.

It’s not infrequently in the Valley that you might hear, “We built [insert successful company name here] three years before. We were just a little too early.”

Timing the market is one of the most difficult things to do. Sometimes entrepreneurs fall into the right place at the right time with the right idea.

Other times, they might need a few years working within an industry for to understand the long-term trends of a customer or user base and the opportunities the industry affords.

And then there are the exceptions, entrepreneurs clearly have a knack for market timing. Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, David Sacks are all repeat entrepreneurs who have had success in several industries.

If I were to update the professor’s equation, I would write:

Innovation = Invention + Marketing + Timing

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