Reframed’s CEO, Kev Price, was invited to speak at the SPE Meltdown event on Innovation, an internal event for Sony employees at the Sony Pictures Europe HQ in London last week. It was so well received that we thought we’d share it.
Innovation itself is rarely the problem.
In 2007 my business partner Jo and I started our first business together. It was a web agency. Reframed is far more successful than it was, yet I was just as innovative back then as I am now.
There are many things that affected the success or failure of our innovation, but I’ll focus on three:
- The economy
- New thinking
A lot of stories about business success are about someone being in the right place at the right time.
We started our first business on November the 1st 2007, in the centre of Newcastle – the day the FTSE crashed.
Before that day wealth in the middle classes was measured by how much credit you could get.
After that day, there was very little credit and yet this wasn’t the primary reason that our business wasn’t successful. It meant that the rules of business had changed and everyone was adapting.
In comparison, Reframed was launched in December 2013.
The economy was recovering. Debt was still not the way of measuring wealth, but the government was pushing levers, such as SEIS, to get people investing in high growth sectors.
In 2007 we were running our agency when what we really wanted was to build ‘really cool stuff’ – because we’re geeks.
But the agency model left us in a position of working hand-to-mouth and only building ‘really cool stuff’ when possible or when budgets allowed.
This left us in a position of innovating for other people and reacting to the immediacy of their business. Building for now, to a budget and specification.
Fast forward to December 2013. I’d predicted the rise of livestreaming and multiple channels and pitched an innovation for curating and producing these streams to a tech accelerator.
This meant that, right away, we were innovating for the future.
Rather than reacting to external forces, such as clients and specifications, we could drive change, stay ahead and have time to adapt if the prediction was wrong.
The biggest difference between 2007 and now is the way that we think and our reasons for sticking with it.
Thinking in our agency model was about saying yes. A client calls and asks if you can do something. Say ‘yes’.
Yes = money in the agency model and living hand to mouth means always saying yes. You can do whatever the client needs.
Innovation means saying no. We had to switch our thinking. We had a goal we wanted to achieve and it’s very easy to complicate it.
There are so many other voices evaluating your idea from limited knowledge of your terrible pitch and asking if it can or will do X or Y.
In the agency model, you say ‘yes’, as adding more features means more money.
When innovating for the future, you say ‘no’ unless it’s going to achieve your goals or refine what you’re doing.
We would listen to advice, work out what they were trying to say, and if everyone was saying the same thing then the trends would push us in a direction.
Over time, our big idea became a small idea as we cut more and more from it.
We worked to find the core of the idea, the point at which everything pivots. Test that point and then scale it. We had three months to get it right or go back to what we were doing.
What we had previously been doing was building outwards, adding more complexity, making ideas unscaleable at the request of our clients.
Innovations are often tiny.
Look at Twitter – it’s essentially typing in a box and that text being added to a list. The surface technology is not groundbreaking.
Reframed itself can be boiled down to commenting on video – i.e. typing in a box
In the agency everything in it was ours. We’d been fighting through a recession – it felt like hard work, everything was hard won. Competition was fierce and so it was easy to take criticism badly.
Innovating around Reframed was easier. It was a project that had a direction but no fixed form.
We went into the process with a PDF and a lot of confidence and we met mentor after mentor who ripped the idea apart.
If we’d not been able to separate ourselves from the idea then we wouldn’t have been able to take part in the critique.
We would have been constantly defending the idea and not actually listening to feedback.
In 2007 I didn’t understand the process. I had many many ideas and innovations and I didn’t know what to do with them.
I would build a proof of concept to see if something was possible and then shelve it for client work, not telling anyone what I’d done. I left it there in case I had a chance to build on it and didn’t wanting people to ‘steal my idea’.
At Reframed, for the first month and a half, before writing any code or doing any programming we told around 15 people per week, 15 very intelligent, high profile people.
None of them stole our idea. All of them had an opinion on how we should grow it.
At the agency, we were constantly in a fight to not fail, to keep the business going, to slog on… And we did, and it hurt.
What we’ve learned since then is it’s far better to fail fast. The aim is high growth, not survival.
It’s better to know early on that you’re wasting your time so you can move on rather than eek out those extra few months of wasted time on survival.
Push, invest, test and fail if you have to.
In 2007 Jo and I were inexperienced people managers and we hired the only people we could afford – inexperienced staff.
A terrible, terrible idea.
Now, we’re more experienced managers and yet we’ve made sure to hire a team that require very little management.
We’re all 30+ with a lot of experience. We’ve surrounded ourselves with experts and success.
People who are already successful know it is possible and will help you up and guide you.
Success is measured against whatever criteria you set. Intend towards an idea.
In the agency, we wanted to ‘build cool stuff’ and we failed more often than we succeeded.
It was a goal with no definition that was measured with each job and each client. It didn’t direct us as a business and I ended up building cool stuff in my spare time.
With Reframed, we are ‘building cool stuff’ every day, but my goals have changed.
I’m as good a developer as I want to be – I know my strengths and weaknesses and play to them.
Now I want to be the best CEO I can be, I want to create jobs, I want to have Reframed’s technology improving video engagement for all major video sources.
The biggest driving force in keeping going is living up to the expectations of the people you care about. I deliberately tell people my goals, I set up an expectation that I am going to achieve them and so if I do not then I have failed.
I don’t mind losing, but I hate failing.
In the same way that telling people your idea is a driving force behind building it, telling people your goals puts pressure on you to become the person that can achieve them.