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Fastest to Market is Not Always Best

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

I was on a panel at a conference recently entitled “You Have an Innovative Idea, Now What? Should You Pursue It?” Part of the discussion turned to how quickly or aggressively you should pursue the idea toward getting it to the marketplace. 

The first thought is that quicker is better. After all, we have to beat the competition, right? It seems it would be best to have plenty of capital to launch the idea very quickly without delay. In the business coaching and economic development business, we all have a joke about the potential client that says, “I have this great idea. All I need to do is borrow [$insert large sum of money here] to launch the full business model. I haven’t made a sale yet, but sales will come almost immediately after I open. How soon could I have a check with the loan proceeds?” There are at least two reasons why this scenario rarely plays out. 

First, it’s almost never a good idea to launch a full business model directly from the idea stage. The original idea for a product or service is almost never the final version that customers want to buy. Changes to the original product or service idea are almost always required. If someone spends all their resources launching the original idea, there are no resources left over to make the changes requested by the customer. 

Second, things happening too fast don’t give us a chance to think those things through. Constrained, or slower resources make us really think things through and in some cases make us think of innovative ways to accomplish more with fewer resources. 

In another topic, the moderator asked us panelists to share one of our big mistakes. That’s tough to do in front of an audience, but the other panelists had bigger, or at least more expensive, mistakes than mine, so that helped. My mistake had to do with things happening too quickly and without enough constraint on resources. 

I was a young adult in the photography business in Garden City, Kansas. This was circa 1980 BD (before digital.) I was booking many portrait and wedding sessions and decided I was paying out too much money to the photo processor. In the period BD, to make photographs you used a light sensitive material in the camera called “film.” After chemical processing, the film yielded a reverse-color image of the subject. We called them “negatives.” The negative was used to make an exposure on light sensitive paper, which again after processing yielded another reverse-color image, turning it back to a “positive” image of the scene. When the chemical processing was just right, at precise temperatures, the images turned out to be an accurate representation of the colors in the original scene. Any out-of-control parts of the process and the colors came out wrong, requiring rework. It sounds extremely complicated and it was. Somehow, I convinced myself that I was smart enough to buy some equipment and do the film and paper processing myself and do it with less expense than I was paying the professional processing house. 

My chief investor, my mother, didn’t ask too many questions. She trusted, wrongly, that I knew what I was doing. So, the financing came quick and I set out to buy the equipment. Of course, there was no used equipment to be had. It all had to be purchased at a new price. The suppliers said “Oh, you won’t be able to find a machine like that used. They never become available. Here’s your price quote on a new machine.” 

In a nutshell, over the next two years, with much money down the drain in the form of rework and wages, I learned that the professional processing house was not the bad value I had thought. So, I sold all the equipment I had purchased two-years before. At this point, there were used machines like mine everywhere. So many on the market for sale I did not come out well at all when I sold. 

That was my own personal, hard lesson in what sometimes happens when you try to rush things too much. Today, I get frustrated at how long it takes to implement something, both at the Lab and at home, but generally the delays have led to better results as I think things through while trying to implement.  

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  


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