Reimagining Startup and Enterprise Innovation

Is Over-Innovation the Real Hurdle to Scale?

Amy Sorrells
Global Communications, Oracle for Startups

This article was originally published on Startup Grinds Medium page.


One of the best parts of my job is witnessing startup founders and their teams build incredible things. These pioneers have taught me that an economy thrives when people innovate. Yet even more importantly, they know how to scale what they have created. I’ve seen this again and again within Oracle for Startups, and it never ceases to amaze me.

A recent episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher challenged me to look at the concept of innovation more closely. Swisher was interviewing Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, who revealed that only ten percent of innovators end up as winners in the end.

“What we find is that there’s a threshold level of innovation you need to be at in any given industry, but once you get above that threshold, more and more innovation isn’t what distinguishes,” Collins said.

“Far more important is your ability to scale innovation.”

Those few sentences inspired me to consider a question that I’d never thought about before: What if we don’t actually need more innovation, but less?

What if the real problem with innovation is over-innovation?

Bringing a cannon to a gunfight

Collins supported my thought process by discussing a principle he calls “fire bullets” and “fire cannonballs.” His premise is that entrepreneurs have a very limited window of opportunity for success, which he compares to having a limited amount of gunpowder on a ship.

If an enemy is bearing down and you use all your gunpowder at once, you’re taking a huge risk. If you miss, you’ll end up in a sea littered with startups who made the same mistake. Alternatively, you can gain the upper hand by shooting a few bullets, recalibrating, and then firing your cannonball when the time is right.

In this analogy, the ships that shoot, adjust, and wait to fire their big shot are the startups that have the wherewithal to scale. This is the difference between strategic innovation and over-innovation. Strategic innovators win in the long haul.

The ongoing rivalry between Snapchat and Instagram illustrates this analogy perfectly. While Snapchat is known for constant innovation, Instagram took their concept of stories and ran with it at scale. (Founder Kevin Systrom even admitted to stealing the idea.)

Despite this morally murky tactic, Instagram now has twice as many daily users as Snapchat.

Friends don’t let friends overdo it

Over-innovation can look like delaying a launch because you’re tweaking your tech, not making a move until the perfect moment, or focusing on the new aspects of your company without improving the old. And to put it bluntly, it kills startups.

Through Oracle for Startups, we’ve seen how integrations with Oracle Cloud solutions provide a path to help startups scale without falling into the trap of over-innovation. We have three pieces of advice to help founders bring something great into the world for scale:

1) Get comfortable with really good: It’s hard for many founders to let go of perfection. But eventually, you have to let your creation loose into the wild. Tweaking it for too long will make you miss your window of opportunity to scale.

2) Listen, learn and adapt: Once your product is out in the world, be open to feedback and prepared to iterate. Thankfully, Oracle teams have incredible insights into what enterprises want. Your product iterations could lead to Oracle integrations that give your startup global scale.

3) Shift to a scale mindset: Start thinking bigger to support bigger. Can your company support and sustain scale? Do you have the right sales force? Can you handle increased customer service requests? Prepare for success, otherwise your company could go under just when the going gets good.

Israeli startup SCADAfence is one example of an organization thriving with Oracle integrations. Their cyber-security industrial (IIoT) solution integrates with Oracle’s OT industrial platforms, allowing them to help companies with large-scale operational technology networks to mitigate operational threats. Oracle connected the young company with industry leaders to shape its future in the IIoT space, while also identifying challenges its customers face when adapting to cloud environments in their manufacturing facilities.

Our mission at Oracle for Startups is to understand the needs of our partnered companies, scale their technology, and boost their business. As Jenny Griffiths, the founder and CEO of Snap Tech said, “Oracle’s startup program has been invaluable for Snap Tech because they understand our needs and have resources to help scale our technology and grow our business. They are a fantastic group of people truly invested in our company’s growth. Oracle is instrumental in helping us scale and innovate.”

‘Innovation’ has become one of those buzzwords that gets tossed around the boardroom, with few companies doing it well. Startups can scale, staying focused on customer needs and meaningful growth, without innovating themselves right out of business.

JOIN ORACLE FOR STARTUPS: Sign up to receive Oracle Cloud credits, plus access to business enablement and marketing resources for your startup.

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