A lesson on how not to innovate

Great post on entrepreneur lessons learned by Tod Sacerdoti of BrightRoll. And I completely agree with the lesson “Don’t Innovate.” Perhaps it’s in our blood as entrepreneurs to see a problem we have to solve and try to experiment with it. Let me share a big mistake I made.

In short, only innovate when you have to. Everything else is a distraction.

Focus on your core (image:Marcin Wichary)

10 years ago with Socialtext we were already on the edge in the early days of SaaS. We wanted to create a bigger flywheel of growth and attempted to shift to a Hybrid Open Source business model.

This decision I regret more than most. I had the team move mountains to make code not written to be open and distributed do so. This energy could have been spent on core features. It was a gamble to get the distribution advantage from having a hybrid open source version. A gamble you couldn’t forecast well, and that didn’t pay off as we hoped.

I even went so far as to create and get approval for a new open source license, the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL), which while in wide use today, embroiled me in debates (that it would create a new generation of Badgeware, it didn’t) that didn’t advance the company.

We wanted to do this because we believed it was an innovative model to lower costs to acquire customers. And the ethic of it was in line with our values. But other enterprise hybrid open source apps we just at the beginning of their journey, and had started their journey with that model.

Shifting to that model was innovative, but we could have kept the focus on innovating within the product. And doing the basics on making stuff, selling stuff and satisfying customers. We did that when the recession hit, but it shouldn’t have taken that.

The widely understood strategy is to figure out what is core and what is peripheral to your business. Focus and innovate on the core. This remains true to me.

(Cross-posted @ Medium | Ross Mayfield)

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CEO and co-founder of Pingpad, making social productivity as instant, simple and social as messaging. Previously VP at SlideShare (acquired by LinkedIn), Co-Founder, CEO at Socialtext (the enterprise social software pioneer) and RateXchange (a B2B bandwidth exchange)