One of the questions I’ve been getting regularly, both because little companies like WhatsApp are in the news and because large firms are struggling to find early stage innovative firms, is “Where do you go to see a lot of small innovative companies?” Firms like this get lost at shows like CES. They just don’t have the budget to stand out against the bigger firm’s announcements and footprint.
You can go to shows like Demo, and I do, but those shows generally focus more on a specific product and not on the firm creating it. Kickstarter is another interesting place to look for innovation — but there is so much activity, and the ideas are so young, that it is nearly impossible to find the few good ideas in the mass of really bad ones.
One place that many don’t think to look is Nvidia’s Emerging Companies Summit. Granted, these are firms that use Nvidia’s graphics engine in new and creative ways — but when it comes to anything that is processor-intensive, that would include anything from virtual reality and design, to artificial intelligence and analytics, which is a pretty broad swath.
I’ll close with my product of the week: a book by my buddy Carmine Gallo on how to Talk Like TED, which could transform the way companies hold events and make my life far more interesting (in a good way, for once).
Innovation vs. Execution
Companies from Apple to Microsoft are pounded for failing to innovate. The reality is, most of these companies aren’t famous for innovation at all, really, but for execution instead. Apple was hardly the first company to make MP3 players (Sony, S3, and Creative Labs beat it to market), or smartphones (IBM was in market around a decade earlier), or tablets (Microsoft and a host of other firms offered tablets long before the iPad appeared). However, Apple’s execution resulted in it taking each of those markets and owning the space.
Microsoft’s top products were Windows 95, which followed Apple and borrowed from Xerox; Office, which copied Lotus 1-2-3 and was made up largely of products the company bought; the Xbox, which followed Sony, Nintendo, Atari and others; and Windows Server, which followed Unix — though likely should have emulated it better to avoid the Linux competitive result.
Apple’s most innovative product arguably was the Newton, which failed but became the foundation for Palm. Microsoft’s most innovative product was AutoPC, which did many of the things Siri does but not nearly as well. It’s generally not the company that innovates — Google was hardly the first with search or Facebook with social networking — but the company that executes well first that wins in the market.
With Windows and Android, Microsoft and Google didn’t out-innovate Apple — they out-executed the company, which is why both were more successful, if you measure success by volume sold. Google did this when Apple was at the top of its game, which would be more impressive had not Google’s chairman been on Apple’s board at the time (suggesting foul play, but it still speaks to execution).
That is why I think Nvidia’s Emerging Company Companies Summit is so different — because, unlike product pitch shows like Demo, it focuses more on the executive team and execution than it does on the product alone.
One of the reasons I think small companies out-execute big ones — why Facebook was able to beat News Corp.-owned Myspace, for instance, or young Microsoft was able to beat IBM — is that they don’t get in their own way.
Large companies, particularly those that have implemented Forced Ranking (which spread like a virus through big firms that touched GE), tend to be plagued with infighting and bureaucrats that use process to avoid making progress.
For instance, Microsoft could have brought its Courier tablet to market much more quickly than the Surface, but it was killed inside — and the group that created it disbanded — largely due to internal politics. Microsoft also had a program to create an iPhone-like product before Apple, but it was killed as well.
HP had a killer smartwatch before that class of product had even occurred to Samsung, Nike or Apple, but HP’s CEO killed it. HP also had the only MP3 player that ever scared Steve Jobs, and Steve actually got HP to kill it (that is an amazing story).
Microsoft’s success with the Xbox largely was due to the fact that the group that created it was more of a company apart, and thus free to take risks someone in the company proper couldn’t. That often was the way big companies got through the innovation and execution problem — they created what were called “Skunk Works” projects, where a relatively small team would head to a location away from any regular campus and work without the politics and overhead of a corporate office. Some of the most advanced products that came out of my division at IBM came from those groups.
Nvidia’s Emerging Company Summit
So this is what makes the Emerging Company Summit different: It focuses more on the teams behind new creative ideas than on the ideas themselves. It does cover the product, but it has a great deal of focus on the execution process that surrounds it. That way, you can better determine whether the result will be successful.
More importantly — particularly for large company attendees — it showcases why these small companies can do what the big companies cannot, and it opens doors to future acquisitions or partnerships that could result in the next Walkman, Facebook or iPod-like offering. Granted, there’s a performance edge, given this is Nvidia, but with so much focus on cloud services, that performance edge — which increasingly is delivered from the cloud — will likely define the next decade of amazing technology products.
I’m actually hosting a round table of some of the company CEOs at the summit, and I am looking forward to that again this year. However, I want to leave you with this: It wasn’t Steve Jobs’ innovative skills that made him a great CEO — it was that he ensured the product from cradle to grave.
Other firms actually did have better ideas, but he made sure Apple had the superior go-to-market customer experience and marketing. He had the vision to see what something could be, and the drive and focus to make sure that vision became a reality.
That’s what defines a winner. It isn’t the idea; it is the execution around that idea that makes the difference. At Nvidia’s Emerging Company Summit, you may not see the next iPod — but you may meet the next Steve Jobs, and it’s the importance of understanding that difference that is the point of this column.
Product of the Week: Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo
This week’s product of the week is very self-serving. I go to a lot of events, but few of them are memorable enough to remember until the next week — let alone longer. Some events, however, I’ll never forget: the launch of Windows 95; the launch of the iPod; Bill Clinton at Dell; Richard Branson at McAfee; Sam Palmisano at IBM’s 100-year anniversary; and the keynote after Lotus was acquired by IBM.
Each of these talks was done like a TED talk, with passion and looking at issues beyond products or services. Many were focused on making you look at the market or company differently, or to see a product as something amazing, or gain support for a major initiative.
I remember walking out of a Steve Jobs presentation praising the incredible magical aspects of it, and it wasn’t pointed out to me until later that on that occasion, the guy had virtually no content. Still, the way he presented was like the leader of a good revival meeting. You wanted to scream “Amen” and fall on the ground prostrate to the Apple gods.
In this latest book, Talk Like Ted, Gallo, who also has written several books on how Jobs created magic, interviews and showcases folks who do amazing TED talks — and teaches you how to do them yourself.
If you’ve ever wanted to just knock the socks off an audience, to make your time on stage something that folks won’t forget — or simply to get people to see a product, service, company or even country in a more favorable light, this book will help teach you what you need to do to make that happen.
This book could make you a better speaker — and more importantly, make events far more fun for me to attend — and let’s focus on the important part, shall we? In any case, because “Talk Like Ted” could turn mundane events into magical memories, it is my product of the week.
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