Industries change...and fast. 

Within that whirlwind, the *speed* at which you innovate is just as important as innovation itself. This is one of the foundations for a successful business: how quickly you can react to and enact change. 

So, what does industry-leading innovation really look like? How can companies best position themselves within its warming glow? 

And, most important of all…how do you recognise when it’s going really well (or not)?

Here's what the experts we talked to recommend: 

  • ⭐ Use team synergy to achieve speed; 
  • ⭐ Learn to measure yourself against the competition;
  • ⭐ Foster a culture of experimentation;
  • ⭐ Get a big picture of your overall progress;
  • ⭐ Take time to identify your key metrics;
  • ⭐ Keep your finger on the pulse of the industry;
  • ⭐ Seek out finances to maintain your speed.

As with anything worth building, the journey to the top is achieved with lots of small steps. 

Unfortunately, this industry pressure to produce the next best thing leads some to rely on a flimsy base. Think reputation, shiny new labels, or expensive marketing schemes. 

The animated character Spongebob under a rainbow with the text "Innovation."

Here's who we spoke to get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

  • Art Shaikh, CEO and founder of CircleIt
  • Connor Ondriska, co-founder of SpanishVIP
  • Kamil Mieczakowski, principal of Notion Capital
  • Archit Rathi, investor at Oxx
  • Jovi Overo, managing director of banking-as-a-service (BaaS) at Unlimint
  • Benjamin Chemla, co-founder and CEO of Shares
  • Nayan Gala, founder of JPIN

Below, we've detailed the seven main points to maximise your company's innovation. Keep scrolling for the full article!

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1. Synergy Helps Innovate Quickly

Within a highly-competitive industry, you need to make sure you're the fastest in the room. 

The character Dwight Schrute looks at the camera with the text "Slow and Steady Wins the Race. False. Fast Always Wins the Race."

🏎️  The general consensus is this: having a strong vision and an even stronger team behind you will help you lead at pace. In short, innovate quickly, together!

“Companies innovate the fastest by working from their roadmaps,” starts Art Shaikh, CEO and founder of the generational platform CircleIt.

Ideally, you have your plan set out and then you can get in a room together and execute. I think this is one reason why in startups, you need to have some in-person working sessions at minimum. Collaborating cross-functionally has worked well for us in innovating new features and bringing them to life.

Art Shaikh

Innovation also happens when “you have a confluence of factors working together," says Connor Ondriska, co-founder of the linguistic services provider SpanishVIP

What are the necessary ingredients for this confluence, this synergy?

Here's what will help speed up innovation, says Ondriska: 

  • 👓 the broader vision of your company;
  • 👥 a talented team with shared goals;
  • 🔍 a deep understanding of competitors 

“Fast innovation is all about forming and empowering small, focused teams that can pretty much always move faster than the broader organisation, with all of its legacy processes and functions,” adds Kamil Mieczakowski, principal of Notion Capital.

2. Keep an Eye on Competitor Analysis

But while a company might be succeeding in its own lane, industry innovation is an eight-lane motorway, and there will always be the temptation to peer over at your competitors. 

But *how* can you recognise whether you’re in front or behind, on top of the pile or buried under it? 

Mieczakowski tells us more about competitor analysis:

Companies need to establish where they are when compared against their competition: are they on product parity level, are they behind the leading innovator or are they significantly ahead, and if so what are the components of the innovation that they have that their competition doesn't.

Kamil Mieczakowski

“This can then be measured periodically to see how the company's position is evolving against the rest of the market,” he adds. 

Following through with our highway analogy, founders should also allow product strategy to take the wheel. 

Companies will be aware of their comparative pace of innovation also when their “product strategy drives change in customer habits and sets the market direction," says Archit Rathi, an investor at the venture capital firm Oxx.

Reputational influences are significant here, says Rathi. Good innovation can be spotted, he says, when “frequently covered in industry news outlets, organic social media chatter, review websites.” He adds that “CAC also tends to go down over time with LTV trending upwards.”

3. Reframe Risk-taking and Failure

Something else that might give you insight into how well you compare to others when it comes to innovation: how do you treat risk-taking and failure?

Fostering a culture of experimentation is key, according to Jovi Overo, managing director of banking-as-a-service (BaaS) at the payment services provider Unlimint

He explains that when a competitor's decision-making process, communication, and incentive structure all penalise failure instead, he knows he's on the right track. This would "usually serve as a proxy that our pace of innovation is faster than our competitors," says Overo.

Indeed, giving space to try new things is key, says Overo. “ANY organisation that does not have a culture of experimentation and penalises failure will never be faster than the alternative."

But a competitor's pace of innovation isn't everything. Being able to identify what to prioritise (and when) is key, says Overo. 

If your company is set up in a way that autonomy and responsibility are devolved to smaller teams, thus, they will be able to roll out changes you have implemented and not just developed. For this to be effective the team must have context and understand the bigger strategic picture. The team must also have clear boundary conditions within which it can operate freely and with autonomy.

Jovi Overo

4. Look at The Big Picture

🌧️ Not every day is a good day–as anyone who is operating a company (or is doing anything bold, difficult, and worth doing) will know. 

And, well…the same can be said for innovation. 

A still from the Simpsons showing a character in a suit shrugging in front of a sales chart

📊 In short: you can't enjoy the highs without also getting the lows. 

It's true that speed is important. But, speed can't remain constant: some days are just going to be slower than others.

So, with all the dips and spikes along the way, how do you get a coherent picture? In short, how can you tell if you *are* getting faster? How can progress be monitored efficiently? 

“For us, we use our deadlines as the main bellwether for speed,” reflects Shaikh. He expands on the details:

We have dates set for specific product launches, and we can easily ascertain whether or not those will be met, and why or why not. It isn't an exact science, as in startup culture, things change rapidly.

Art Shaikh

As failing to plan is planning to fail, many of our experts view the management of weekly tasks as the perfect indicator of progress. 

“We have a goal to release some form of new update for the app every week, and we are achieving that goal 99 per cent of the time,” explains Benjamin Chemla, co-founder and CEO of the investment app platform Shares.

To us, innovation doesn’t mean creating something brand new and revolutionary every day. It means being finely attuned to our customers' wants and needs, and consistently being in a growth cycle that drives us to be innovative thinkers.

Benjamin Chemla

How? Chemla and his team use a "test and learn" model to better understand their customers, he says. 

Then, they make sure their innovation process allows for adoption time. 

This, he says, is the key to ensuring that any changes or updates are successful and add value for our end users.”

5. Find your Key Metrics

What key metrics you focus on is important. Jovi Overo from Unlimint confirms, "you track what you measure." 

And, he has some examples of what you can monitor, like "the number of improvements a company can make in each timeframe and the time it takes for a product to go from an idea to being implemented."

⏲️ Another key idea? Having a clear timeline…and sticking to it. 

A meme showing the character Bormir from the LOTR franchise, played by Sean Bean, with the text "One does not simply do some innovation."

This was the advice from Nayan Gala, founder of the global startup investment banking platform JPIN. Once the clear timeline is implemented, he says, companies should then note how long a certain iteration actually took to materialise in reality.”

He says this will give you a benchmark against which to assess. The end result is a really clear indicator showing whether you’re innovating faster or slower.

This won't *only* act as your speedometer, though. Taking note of how you fare against a set deadline and timeline will also show you what your blockers are. 

It’s also worth taking note of how many roadblocks you are encountering with each project. If you notice that you’re having a large number of meetings to get a certain iteration over the line, then clearly there are problems being created that didn’t exist before.

Nayan Gala

The best way to go about this? Having a post-mortem after each key project is a great way to keep track, says Gala. 

This will help you analyse how everything went–and help you to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. 

6. Look Around at the Industry's Speed

So, let's get to the crux of the matter: where is the finish line?  

Well, what direction to head towards (and whether people will be there, cheering) actually has something to do with what's going on around you.

In other words, the collective speed of the group–or, in this case, the industry's speed—matters.

To track it, ask yourself: are your competitors speeding up or slowing down? 

One way to see this is by looking at "the specific aspects you are measuring," says Jovi Overo from Unlimit. 

He gives an example: minimising cycle time, maximising throughput, and therefore shipping new ideas. 

This won't be *nearly* as easy as measuring your own speed, but Gala has some tips. They include: 

  • ⚙️ Monitoring new releases;
  • 🤝 Attending all relevant industry events;
  • 🗣️ Speaking to other experienced people in the sector.

Overall, though, looking around should be a glance⁠—no more.

Gala reminds us what sits at the core of innovating at pace: your own development.

Tracking competitors’ speed in this area should clearly be a consideration, but a much greater focus should be placed on a firm’s own development rather than spending too much time or resource thinking of the competition.

Nayan Gala

7. Don't Leave Money on the Table

This should go without saying, but it's useful to remember. 

Unfortunately, many of these additional activities–not to mention the innovation itself–are not cheap. This is true whether they be time, staff, or materials, the ability to fund it can boost a business when it's most crucial. 

This can be done in many ways, including claiming R&D tax credits. In all likelihood, you are pretty familiar with it!

But, did you know many companies do not claim their R&D relief as soon as they can? If you fall into this category and are entitled to a payable credit, this capital is essentially 'sat' with HMRC waiting to be claimed - instead of being put to good use to grow your business!

To avoid this aim to file your annual accounts with HMRC as soon as you are able to, instead of waiting. As soon as your accounts are filed, you can submit your R&D claim.

You can learn more about different ways to finance your company that aren't VC, or you can start the process of claiming R&D tax benefits and get started with us.

An Archer meme with the text "do you want government funding? Because that's how you get government funding."

Overall, there isn't just one way to get up to pace when it comes to innovation. That would be far too simple. 

Instead, there are some key takeaways. For example, how to best leverage dedicated groups for innovating at pace, and how⁠—as simple as it sounds⁠—you won't come up with something new if you don't try new things. How not all metrics are key metrics, and how it's important to keep an eye on your competitors and the industry as a whole.

What's more, it's never too late to create something new. Anyone can do it because the process is so entirely unique. All it requires is consistency, urgency, insight, and optimism. 

As for the specific path you'll take?

We don't yet know: that will be brand new. 

Enjoyed what you read? This article is just the beginning.

How do you sustain innovation and harness your momentum? How do you stay ahead of the curve and maintain your speed⁠—or even increase it?

We'll be releasing Part 2 of our guide to innovation next week, focusing on sustaining innovation once you've achieved it.

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