Grow your business (but never lose the startup mentality)

Here’s what we know for sure. As any business starts to have success, it grows. And the bigger it gets, the more people are brought in. More people = more bureaucracy, more meetings, more layers, more rules, a slowdown in movement and, well, a marked increase in B.S. If you’re not careful, this all drives you further away from the passion and kick ass mentality that was fueling your success in the first place. So how to avoid this?


Avoid the complacency that comes with growth with a DISTINCT (NOT EMPTY) COMMITMENT to preserving a start up mentality (even if you are not a startup). What does this mean?
This means committing to (and expecting) a push for innovation in areas beyond just your core product or service. As you grow, your organization’s DNA needs to push to find innovation and efficiencies in every facet…day to day operations, logistics, processes, accounting, IT, sales, etc., etc. This is just as important as core product innovation. So push for it. Expect it. In every nook and cranny of the organization.
This means genuinely encouraging people to question the status quo. Allow people to question processes if…but only if…they have a take on how to make things better…or a passion to find a solution.
This means making sure everyone (not just key people) has a constant touch with the outside world…with customers, constituents and what’s actually going on in the world. An out of touch team leads to an out of touch business.
This means eliminating unnecessary meetings (but keeping key collaboration and communication)
This means keeping teams small and nimble and then staying out of their way.

In support of the above, this ultimately means carving out time for people to actually think and learn and act. As in a startup, people must be allowed uninterrupted blocks of time to formulate new ideas and approaches that make the organization better and more efficient. This increases individual job satisfaction, drives collective morale and ultimately helps the business continue to thrive. In other words, you can grow the entity out of startup mode, but never, ever take the startup mentality out of the entity.

About the author: Eric Greene is a principal at Elevation (it’s different up here). Elevation is an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering). To learn more, go to:

Which comes first – the target or the product?

Should you come up with your new technology, product or service first and then retrofit it to a target? Or vice versa? Like the chicken and the egg, that is the question. So what’s the answer?


While the answer may seem fuzzy (sorry – baby chick pun), this much we know for sure:
• All too often, organizations and entrepreneurs come up with something…a seed…a concept…a technology…a business…whatever. It seems cool, so they launch it and then try to find an audience for it, banking on the notion that the proper customer set will emerge. But way too often this doesn’t fly (come to think of it, chickens aren’t real good flyers either).
• And then there’s targets themselves. Each target flock (okay, enough with the bird references) has different needs, different problems, talks in different lingo, has a different set of urgency, different emotional needs and a different time frame. Not to mention a different amount of money they’re willing to spend.

So, here’s an idea to incubate: given the above, the smart play is to pick and understand your target first and then create your product SPECIFICALLY FOR THOSE PEOPLE. Catering to exact needs, speaking in just the right language, etc. will create more spark, resonate more strongly and ultimately increase your odds of success.

About the author: Eric Greene is a principal at Elevation (it’s different up here). Elevation is an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering). To learn more, go to:


Want better research? Get your hands dirty.

Want more out of your research? Get your hands dirty.  Go guerrilla.  Go to where your customers and prospects are are.  Hang out where your target does real things in real-time under real conditions.  This is where you can have casual, comfortable, genuine conversations.  This is where you can walk in the shoes.  This is where your consumers are their absolute selves and act accordingly.  And where you can make observations and gather subtle insights that consumers would never even think to articulate, let alone be comfortable enough to mention in a more sterile or artificial research setting.


By way of example, on a client assignment awhile back, we spent a couple of weeks with dog owners.  We hung out in dog parks, backyards and trails.  We tried products and lived life alongside people and their pets.  We learned a TON by experiencing what consumers experience…and by simply chatting people up.  We also learned by observing subtleties and taking note of the occasional frustrated look on a dog owner’s face…a cringe…a change in body language – things that people never think to say, even when you ask, but that are real.

The result: deeper insights that drove several new product innovations, with incremental national shelf space to match (and competitors who never saw any of it coming).  This can, and has worked with a variety of products, services, technology and start ups in all kinds of settings.  Just show up. Get your hands dirty.  And see what happens.

About the authors: Eric Greene & Keith Poulson are principals at Elevation (it’s different up here).  We are an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering).  To learn more, go to:

Sniffed some Play Doh (smells like innovation)

Sniffed some Play-Doh the other day. You should really go out and do this right away.  Why? The effect is an instant, unmistakable, highly positive association with childhood.  The experience is delightful and conjures up all kinds of great memories.  It also conjures up important insights about differentiation, innovation and competitive advantage.

Play-DohOne of the brilliant things about Play-Doh is the built-in delight.  That powerfully distinct “smell of childhood and fun” you get when you open the can.  This powerful instant queue thrills customers in ways that stand it FAR APART from similar competitors. Think about it.  There are scores of similar products.  But there is only one Play-Doh.  They dominate without much marketing.  Savvy marketers, new product/service developers, designers, retailers, restauranteurs,  web and software developers often take the same approach.  By building in powerful touches…from any of comfortably familiar, cool, fun, emotional or in other ways delightful…you cement differentiation and customer loyalty that features and functions by themselves just can’t match.

Obviously, not everything we need to know about differentiation and competitive advantage is learned from kindergarten.  But this much is certain: put someone in charge of developing and integrating queues and touches that bring the cool, fun or delight – and your differentiation and competitive advantage will be elevated.

There’s something about Abe Lincoln

What is it about Abe Lincoln? He pops up everywhere and is referenced all the time. Think about it.  Not a day goes by where you don’t see honest Abe referenced somewhere, somehow.  Sure, on President’s Day and because of money.  But that just scratches the surface of our Abe obsession.  He pops pretty much every day in all kinds of expected and unexpected ways.  On billboards.  In quotes.  On TV.  In books.  Movies.  Parodies.  As a vampire hunter.  In costumes.  To settle bets.  A.k.a. he is the Elvis of ex-Presidents.  Honest Abe is one of 44 U.S. Presidents (albeit one of our very, very finest) and has been deceased for 148 years.  So why are there seemingly more Abe Lincoln references than those of all other non-sitting presidents put together? And what does this have to do with innovation, design, research, new product development and marketing?

Read on…

Blog 2-18-14 Something about Abe-1So what does this Abe phenomenon have to do with innovation, design, research, new products and marketing? It’s this.  All Abe, all-the-time is a real thing.  But it’s the kind of thing that most people would never consciously notice.  Most anybody can catch the obvious things.  You need someone…yourself, a leader, an employee, an agency person, a researcher, but someone…who is able to notice the offbeat things, the emerging, the next, the heretofore unseen wave that leads to big ideas.  And if you don’t have such a person, you should find one. Honest.

8 things Sochi teaches us about innovation and marketing

So what do the Sochi Olympics teach us?

1. If you build it poorly, your customers will do anything to break free of you.  And  then they will complain.  Loudly.  On social media.

12. Beware of scope creep.  The larger and more elaborate the plan, the bigger the over-runs (and the more hands that come out grabbing for money)

3. Don’t make things so complicated that you forget the simple, important stuff
2 4. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver.  For example, don’t promise “an Olympic experience that exceeds China” and then fail to provide clean running water or enough pillows.

5. Bureaucracy, committees and too many meetings are killers of productivity.  If you want to get more done, involve less people.

6. Create positive advanced buzz (and a lot of it).  In the absence of such positive buzz, negative buzz takes over, infests everything and grows out of control.  Next thing you know, everyone is paranoid and nobody wants to visit, pay or watch.

7. Big egos tend to get exposed in ways that turn off your prospective audience

38. The product can speak volumes for itself…if you avoid the above and simply let it shine.


Here’s To The Crazy Ones

Way back in the stone age days of 1997, Apple Computer came out with a kick ass ad campaign during the launch of the Macintosh. This “Think Differently” campaign rang true then, and it’s still equally powerful today.  Here’s how it went:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

think differentSo while everyone else is telling you why not, nay-saying, resisting, saying “we can’t” or “we won’t” or just being a general all around pain in the you-know-what, just keep telling yourself:STAY CRAZY That is, if you really want to make a difference.