Why you Should Build your Business Plan with LEGO™

By Derek Blonski

I love LEGO™. My brother and I used to spend hours upon hours playing with the stuff. Mind you where he was always more a general contractor, my passion was more focused in general demolition. So needless to say when, on the first day of my MBA, the professor announced that our task was to build an innovative product for the office environment using LEGO™, I was really excited.

Dutifully, my group got together, and in the 15 minutes given to us came up with some of the most cutting-edge, technologically imaginative product ever conceived.

A desktop coffee maker… with a business card slot on top. Needless to say, this MBA was already paying for itself.

The professor assured that radical innovation like this was the key to success in the new economy, and as long as we continually strove for this sort of “blue ocean” innovation – that is to say, innovation in a completely untapped market – the investments, sales, and fortunes would come flowing in.  However I can tell you today, a year later, no companies have approached me demanding the rights to my prototype, there are no business cards in the convenient business card slot, and I am still driving my Corolla to work.

So what happened? Why didn’t my clearly innovative idea take off despite its staggering technical superiority?

It seems I am not the only one running into this issue. Philips, before successfully launching the DVD, launched a nearly technically identical product, the CD-I(nteractive), that was in every sense of the word, a market flop selling only 570,000 units worldwide [1]. Wave, Google’s highly anticipated messenger program, lasted less than a year [2]. Within the CPG industry, the rate of failure rate on new products is up to 90% [3]. This idea of radical innovation is rapidly becoming the tool firms are relying on to break into new markets and out of old ones. However, unmanaged radical innovation is not a solution in itself and reliance on it to drive your business is part of the reason why you won’t be drinking desktop coffee anytime soon. Here are a couple of tips that can help you avoid your next product landing in the innovation graveyard:

Pitfall: “Because I need it, the Market Needs it”
Solution: The ability to objectively evaluate the product ability and your start-up’s capabilities can be one of the hardest things to learn, and is even harder to stick to once you have begun the launch cycle. This is why the process of writing a business plan and doing specific and thorough market research up front is so critical to success.

Pitfall: “The consumer will buy it because it’s cool technology”
Solution: Had any of the MBA students in the LEGO
activity taken a minute and looked at the underlying issues in the office space, the result would have been a tailored product development cycle, focused innovation, and in the end, an easier sale at the end of the class. A successful innovation process puts the customer in the centre of the process.

Pitfall: Picking out the colour of the Paint before writing a business plan
Solution: Firms who start planning production numbers and marketing campaigns before doing the basic groundwork are apt to end up with an unclear brand message and, in my case, a business card slot on top of their product. Don’t skip steps in business development.

In the meantime, if anyone knows of an investor who is both a coffee-fiend and unorganized when it comes to business cards, please direct them my way.

Derek is currently pursuing his MBA in Strategic Marketing at McMaster University. He is the Altitude Accelerator’s Business Analyst, helping early stage businesses get over the commercialization hurdle. His focus is in marketing analytics and business development, and has run his own online business for the last 12 years.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit Altitude Accelerator for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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