The Innovator’s New Dilemma
Posted at 8:00h, 17 Jan 2017 in Advice by Bonnie Halper No Comments 135 Likes Share

It has been 10 years since the iPhone first appeared, and when it did, people frankly didn’t know what to make of it. . According to Quartz, “When Steve Jobs stood on the stage 10 years ago today at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, he started out by saying he was launching three new devices: “An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator.” In fact, of course, they were a single device—the iPhone, which would lift Apple’s fortunes to unprecedented heights.” Of course, it was so novel, to many it was also the Blind Men and the Elephant.

Then there’s the new innovator’s dilemma, wherein one can innovate just so much, before one is in danger of running out of ideas, in which case, it’s a long-standing tradition in Silicon Valley to simply steal from a competitor, as in the case of Instagram Stories (Instagram’s shameless Snapchat knockoff is doing marvelously well) “Instagram Stories closely mimics Snapchat—users can broadcast short videos to their followers, which disappear 24 hours after getting sent out,” says Quartz. “Upon its launch, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said he felt no shame about playing the role of copycat. In an interview with TechCrunch at the time of its launch, he admitted that Snapchat “deserve[s] all the credit” for the concept, adding that copying ideas remains somewhat of a tradition in Silicon Valley. “Gmail was not the first email client. Google Maps was certainly not the first map. The iPhone was definitely not the first phone. The question is what do you do with that format?” Systrom said.”

The iPhone may not have been the first mobile phone, not was Facebook the first (essentially) phone book, but it was not a copycat. If there was one thing that Steve Jobs could do brilliantly, it was to think outside of the dispenser. With larger companies swooping in and literally stealing ideas from smaller players, is it game over? Even the iPhone is losing market share, as we’ve mentioned previously.

It may be time to start thinking small. When you consider it, in introducing the iPhone, Steve Jobs, as he said, rolled up an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator into one device. From an investor’s point of view, that would cut out a couple of revenue streams, but the iPhone was a game changer – and made Apple the most valuable company in the world for a very long time.

Then there’s Vivek Ramaswamy, founder of The billion-dollar pharma startup that Silicon Valley has totally missed, according to TechCrunch. While he is in the biotech space, Ramaswamy is no Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos, to refresh your memory), a mediagenic unicorn founder who quickly grabbed headlines in the tech press and who was attempting to do the (to date) impossible, but Ramaswamy did accomplished the seemingly impossible, nonetheless: “Ramaswamy has acquired a dozen drugs (which had been abandoned by other pharma companies, for various reasons cited in the article), including an Alzheimer’s pill that’s now named intepirdine. He also formed a company around that drug, Axovant Sciences, and took it public in 2015 — despite that the drug’s Phase 3 results won’t be out until this year. It was the biggest biotech IPO ever ever in the U.S., raising $360 million. It has largely held up, too…

“Roivant has also launched Enzyvant Sciences, a company focused on rare genetic pediatric conditions that Ramaswamy calls “ignored and underserved,” including a metabolic disorder called Farber disease and DiGeorge syndrome, a genetic disease that results in poor development of several body systems.”

We do know that investors love big payoffs, and that the media loves attention getting stories: in the case of Theranos (initially): Stanford drop-out turned tech unicorn, who lost it all when she couldn’t deliver as promised. The votes aren’t all in on Ramaswamy yet, but he is shaking up pharma by not abandoning drugs because the market might not be large enough (au contraire), or throwing out the baby – or, in this case, scientist – with the bathwater because one drug didn’t work out, but rather, to find another spot for that scientist – and by extension, reshaping/disrupting how the pharma business is run – more on an incubator model. And isn’t the better part of disruption about viewing an industry through a different lens, after all?

In other words, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. Ramaswamy may be the anti-unicorn, avoiding the big headlines and name-brand investors. He did something that Steve Jobs famously suggested, which seems to escape many a so-called innovator as well as companies that grow to a certain level of success and become somewhat complacent, to the point where they have to steal from a competitor rather than follow perpetual innovator Jobs’ suggestion: think different. Onward and forward.