Yet even those that successfully cross the chasm and enjoy mainstream success are faced with a significant challenge as the market matures. The competitive edge that has fueled their growth is difficult to maintain as the market commoditizes. The innovator is faced with a dilemma. Their innovation is often part of the identity of both the company and the entrepreneurit's brand equity. And yet that very innovation starts to become a liability as competition commoditizes the product and the innovation is no longer innovative.
And so the innovator is faced with a dilemma. He either has to become a mainstream business dealing with commodity products, or has to let go of that innovation and come up with a new one. Large shareholder-driven corporations are perfectly content to do either one (or both) of these. And they've usually got both the infrastructure to support a commodity business and a big enough R&D budget to keep pumping out the innovations.
But both of these options are far more difficult for the entrepreneur. For an innovative entrepreneur, the idea of commoditizing the innovation and doing conventional business in a highly competitive market is about as attractive as a root canal. In fact, it's the very antithesis of the entrepreneurial spirit. On the other hand, while that innovation is hard to let go of for any company, it's especially so for entrepreneurs because it is so much a part of their individual reputation, usually to the point that it is part of their essential identity.
So what does an innovative entrepreneur do about this dilemma? Here are a few tips:
Delegate. Let someone else turn the company into a sustainable commodity-based business while you look for something else. This could mean just delegating the majority of your work (and authority) to your direct reports. It's sometimes difficult, though, for them to transition away from a centralized authority. If you're concerned that this might cause fragmentation, then you may need to hire an experienced Chief Operating Officersomeone with the experience of sustained operations in a mature market.
Sell out and walk away. Seriously! Watching an innovative entrepreneur suffer under the constraints of an ongoing concern is like watching someone stuck in a miserable marriage. There's no shame in itit doesn't mean you've failed. In fact, quite the opposite! "Serial entrepreneur" is a great appellation.
Look around you. The next great innovation may already be sitting in the head of someone in your company. They know the market space. They know your productpossibly even better than you do yourself. And above all, they know the customers. Get everyone together and just brainstorm. Even if the idea isn't stated just perfectly by someone, it may spark something in you that triggers that next great innovation.
These strategies may help you keep some stability while you're working on that next innovation, but the very most important thing to do is release your ego. Say this with me one time I am not my creation. Again I am not my creation.
The sooner you come to the realization that what's really a part of you is not the innovation itself, but rather your ability to create it, the sooner you'll be able to detach from that first creation, let it live its own life, and move on to bigger and better things.