If you ever ask me about innovation again... | Article – HSBC VisionGo

People talk about how innovation is the only mean to addressing problems. But when we need to run innovation as a business...

This is an old article I wrote when I was busy promoting TalkBox throughout China.


Rarely do I find time to sit down and elaborate my thoughts. But this moment, at Beijing’s Shangri-la Hotel, where I am sitting in the press corner at Business Value’s Mobile Carnival and mentally preparing for the presentation I am giving this afternoon, that I realize, after an intensive year of startup 101, after answering the same questions again and again, that I have the urge to wrap up our approach to innovation.

We’re often asked, that we started a trend and created a market that we failed to capture ourselves, how are we gonna deal with the losing out? First of all, I don’t feel like we’ve lost anything, not even the beginning of the end. On the contrary, all we’ve experienced seems to be supporting our belief …

People talk about how innovation is the only mean to addressing problems. But when we need to run innovation as a business and inevitably forcing a revenue model on innovation, it's easy to fall into the fallacy that there is one best innovation to one pre-defined problem, hence the case of conglomeration in China’s mobile internet market.

Resources are unequal but grey matters is non-discriminative. As a startup, our responsibility is two-fold, 1. refuse to accept that there is only one answer (stop saying because the big guys have money so they can give freebies to drive usage and since we don’t have that kind of dough, we will never attain that level of usage); 2. find new questions to ask, don’t let the “already success” defines the problem for us. Startups are blessed with an instinct to discover latent user needs.

China is a winner takes all market, the celebration of smallness isn’t much appreciated here. Even the startups themselves find it perplexing why someone would wanna stay small. I’ve met very smart engineers who because of wanting to grow big too soon, have also made comprise to an existing solution too soon, without spending time on seeking any possible alternatives. I guess that is why “micro-innovation” is so common here. Imagine how many ingenious ideas and opportunities we’re missing out and worst of all, it’s a pitfall startups make for themselves. Compromising on a proven solution also implies following the game rule set out by the predecessor. If it’s a market condition favoring the big guys, then at the end, how could a small team gets the same resources to beat the big guys at their own game?

Reflecting on TalkBox situation, outsiders may think we have failed to capture the messenger market but allow me to say, all constraints considered, the mass messenger market isn’t supposed to be our battlefield anyway. Our core value is voice messages but that doesn’t mean we need to be confined as a messenger. We are working hard to adapt voice messages in other products.

One thing we can say for sure: we are evolving with perseverance – the single most essential DNA a startup should have.

7 July 2012, Beijing


In case you're wondering what happened to TalkBox? The team persevered and repositioned to be a Saas Enterprise communication product, now proudly serving schools and NGOs in Hong Kong. Check out the reinvented TalkBox - Teamwork App