Innovation doesn’t have an end date – or life in Perpetual Beta

beta11One thing we pride ourselves on at Workible is our culture of constant innovation.  “Perpetual beta” – as I heard it put at innovation hub, Ideo, in Silicon Valley a couple of years ago – beta being the term that technology companies have used for years to describe their testing period.
This term made a lot of sense to me.  You see, technology is never really finished – not if you’re serious about it.

It’s why companies like Facebook and Google have massive teams of developers always looking at additional features, user experience tweaks and a better, smoother user interface.

Recently I heard my friend and entrepreneur Dale Beaumont put it a different way.  He said “if you’re not innovating and moving forward, you’re not standing still, you’re actually moving backwards” and that’s because everything around you is changing and increasing pace.

It’s really true.  Never before have things moved so fast or has the pace of change accelerated at such a speed – and it’s only going to get faster.  You don’t have a chance to build your technology, move it into the market, see how it settles and then decide what’s next, instead you release it, fix it along the way (or fail fast) and keep innovating while you’re doing it.

That’s perpetual beta.

To be able to do that, however, you need to keep a finger on the pulse of the market.  You need to have an ear on the ground, to listen to the chatter and gossip in your industry to uncover what the pain points are then plan to address them.  You need to watch what others are doing, not just your competitors but other businesses in other verticals that are being innovative then apply those innovations to your industry.

In our space, we see businesses all the time who are trying to take the “same old, same old” approach to recruitment just with prettier logos or by throwing large amounts of money at big brand ad campaigns – but that’s not innovation.

Every industry is currently being disrupted, not just by doing the same thing a bit differently but by doing it totally better – and ours is no different (and, we are leading that charge!).  For some industries that’s really hard (recruitment is one – they’re not early adopters) but it’s going to happen – that’s a given.

You only have to look at what businesses like AirBNB and Uber have done in their markets – by doing something totally different they’ve really put a cat amongst the pigeons, so much so that governments in some areas are actually trying to close them down.

But people love them both because they’ve simply offered a better way of doing things – and they’ve done it by thinking outside the square.

But, are they done?  Absolutely not.  Uber’s last capital raise was $1B and Airbnb’s was $1.5B (yes, billion!!) showing that those companies are still expanding – and innovating along the way.

Innovation is not an idea – it’s an attitude.  It’s applying a “how can we do it better” every day.  It’s about being constantly frustrated and dissatisfied with what you have, and knowing that you still have a long way to go.

We often get asked when Workible will be finished.  The answer is never.  The fact that the whiteboards in our office are covered with hundreds of coloured post-it notes for new ideas, features and improvements are testament to that.

It’s as frustrating as hell.  If we could wave a magic wand and have 500 developers working to make all of those post-it note ideas a reality, I’m guessing that the board would quickly fill up with even more ideas to replace them.

That’s what true innovation is.  Constant change.  Never ending improvement.  Out there ideas.  What if’s.  If only’s.  Continual frustration.  Limitless opportunities.  Perpetual Beta.

And we love it.

Innovation doesn’t have an end date – or life in Perpetual Beta

Where do you draw the line?

do not crossYesterday we had an interesting conversation at Workible about where you draw the line in marketing – and what’s fair game.

As a growing business, we’re always looking at unique ways to get to the market and a recently published tech success story was at the centre of our “how did they do it” discussion.

Some googling soon uncovered some interesting forum and blog posts about some tactics startups had been using (but not admitting to) and that instigated a discussion about where a company draws the line.

Let me be frank, the tactics used by some of these companies were certainly not straight up – but nor were they illegal or fraudulent.  They were, however, very clever and resulted in a huge traffic windfalls to their site (and possibly away from a competitor’s) and, ultimately, was a major part of the huge success they are now enjoying.

Others we came across were arguably even more dodgy, giving the company a windfall in users but giving the users a terrible user experience – and therefore possibly not gaining many true active users – and making us wonder whether they had really thought it all through or whether or not it was simply a “grab for analytics” to make the company look better to a financier or acquirer.

So where’s the line in business?  What is healthy competition and what is just not right?

The more time we spend in the start up world, the more we realize that all is not what it seems.   What appears to be random luck is seldom that.  It’s much more often smoke and mirrors  or edgy marketing than it is “right place, right time” and it’s all covered up by the term “growth hacking”.  And then there are outright lies about traffic, users and growth – something that puzzles us because, let’s be frank, it’s not too hard to check.

Talk to real growth hackers and they’ll tell you that growth hacking is really about looking at metrics then working out ways to do small incremental improvements everywhere that, put together, give you increased growth in users and/or traffic and not that one big idea that changes everything.

Very few growth hackers will admit to sneaky tactics that mine other sites to get users, or re-direct traffic or piggy back – these seem to be more the domain of the early startup teams – who use “desperate measures in desperate times” – the early days that can make or break a startup.

I’m not sure that we came to an actual conclusion about what was fair game and what wasn’t but our discussion did lead to marketing in general. In the offline world, if salespeople go out every day to try to poach business from their competitors, doesn’t that make these online tactics also fair game?

As an entrepreneur, the whatever it takes attitude is what you need to succeed.  Start ups are hard so you sometimes need to step off the moral high ground and just do what it takes to survive.  It all depends on where you, as an individual, draw the line on what is simply smart marketing versus what is down and dirty behavior.  At the end of the day, that’s up to the individual.

At Workible, we prefer to err on the side of caution.  We don’t lie about our users or our traction.  We don’t need to.  Our technology speaks for itself.  We’re not trying to be the biggest kid in the playground – we don’t need hundreds of thousands of users because we are a Saas platform.  We’ve specifically chosen not to play where everyone else does, there’s no point.  The biggest players have the general market sewn up, so why go head to head with them?

We’ve taken the disruptive path – picking a niche market and solving their problem with innovative technology and a new way of doing things.  Have a look at the big disruptors in the market – they’re not taking on the big guys, they’re doing things very differently and reinventing the way things are being done.  For us, we’re reinventing recruitment in our niche.

Does that mean we don’t take clients from others?  Absolutely not.  That’s just healthy competition.  Do we use growth hacking to grow?  Totally.  But that’s just smart marketing.

As for where you draw the line, well, that’s up to the Founders.

Where do you draw the line?

Why no experience can be the best thing for you

Last week, a member of a Facebook group I belong to posed a question about how to counter the “no experience” argument.

He’s a consultant and has been given the opportunity to put a proposal forward for a really big job with a company in an industry he’s new to. He asked the group how he should best address the “no industry experience” argument that he was sure to get.

no experienceThere were a number of answers – let them try you out before charging them, give them a money-back guarantee, try to find a connection who can give a testimonial – all of which, while trying to be extremely helpful, were about seeing this lack of experience as a negative.

I couldn’t resist throwing my two cents into this one. You see, I’ve been on the receiving end of this for the last corporate job I applied for. That particular company was a very well known provider of credit cards and they were looking for someone from one of their 3 competitors to take the role so they could bring “knowledge of the industry and how it’s done here” to the business.

To my way of thinking, that’s ridiculous. Isn’t the whole point of bringing someone new in to “break the mold” and do things differently rather than bringing in someone who does the same thing – but just getting them to do it for a different company?

So that’s how I framed my answer to the gentleman in the Facebook group. I said to him that rather than putting a negative spin on his lack of industry experience, he should point out the benefits of having someone who doesn’t know “how it’s done here” and how that allows him the advantage of being able to look at the business with fresh – and disruptive – eyes.

Disruption is what it’s all about these days (but more about that in my next blog).

My Workible Co-Founder, Alli, and I had no industry experience in either recruitment or technology when we started our business. Given we have a recruitment technology business, you’d think that that was madness. But it wasn’t. What it was was an opportunity to look at a problem and an industry and re-invent the wheel. We had the luxury of giving ourselves free reign to say “how do we think it should work” without any preconceived ideas of how it “should”.

The result is that we’ve invented a totally disruptive platform that, we believe, will change the way recruitment is done. And that’s the benefit of no experience.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re applying for your first job or your next job, or applying for a huge consulting contract like my Facebook pal, don’t let your lack of experience hold you back. In fact, it’s a huge advantage so spin it that way. You bring a fresh set of eyes to a business, and it allows you to think outside the square.

As an employer, I’m always happy to employ people with no experience – for that very reason. And any savvy business owner, presented with that argument, would see it that way as well. Let what others see as your biggest disadvantage, be the advantage you have over everyone else.

Why no experience can be the best thing for you