Having just returned from the Inc. 500 awards ceremony and a trip to London, I've been asked a series of questions that are surprisingly similar and thought that both the questions and the answers would be of interest to you.
Many questions are from students in entrepreneur or public relations classes, but what was particularly interesting to me was while meeting new retailers in England, the buyers asked me similar questions. Here you go:
1. How did you come up with the Perfect Pushup?
The funny thing is, I had this idea since the early 1990s while I was a young SEAL officer, but thought it was so "ordinary" that it wouldn't be of interest to people. I was looking for the really "extraordinary" breakthrough product, and I spent a lot of money and even more time trying to make the invention work (which we called BODYREV).
I nearly went bankrupt (along with my partner), trying to educate folks on the value of our invention. Finally, we came to our senses after four years and adapted to the marketplace and put our efforts behind an innovation, which we called the Perfect Pushup.
2. What's the difference between an invention and innovation?
This is a really important concept in my book. An invention is an idea that has no reference point. It's completely new to the market and defines an entirely new category, which presents another challenge: What are you going to call the category? What's the definition of the category? And how are you going to defend it with your limited resources?
Examples of a new category: Segway, the two-wheeled motorized scooter, Apple's iPod, Xerox's copier or Twitter.
In the case of an innovation, the idea has a reference point. People can reference something in the brain that is a launching pad for quickly understanding how the product works and then easily filing it in their brain and passing along the idea to others.
In our case of the Perfect Pushup, our reference point is pushup bars -- U-shaped stationary handles -- and the innovation that we brought to the table was adding rotation so it better simulates the natural movement of your arms, engages more muscles and is easier on the joints. It's like a punch.
Super simple to explain and convey to others. When you launch your own idea, first ask yourself whether it is an innovation or invention. If you have really deep pockets and super patient, long-term investors, then knock yourself out with the invention, but if you're just starting and with limited resources, go for the "ordinary" idea first -- the innovation -- that people can grasp and understand quickly.
3. How will you grow, fight off imitators and keep your competitive edge?
In a phrase, passion-driven purpose. It's about linking your company, values and mission statement to a purpose. If the sole focus of your company is to make money, then your goals will be aligned for the short-term, "get-rich" schemes, and it won't deliver long-term value.
If your company's goals are aligned directly with a higher purpose -- in our case, helping people unlock their body's potential (and our number one core value is that we care about the health of our customers), then some powerful forces will start to align with you.
First, you'll take a long-term and creative approach to bringing true value and success to your customers. The more you help your customers succeed, the more they will help you succeed. If it's all about "taking" from your customers, then they have no incentive to "give" to you.
Secondly, the true superstars of talent out there work for much more than a paycheck. Money itself isn't enough. There's a much more important value element that a profiteer company can't deliver. That's providing people with the value of delivering on a higher purpose -- of giving back to society, to communities around us and the environment.
When you start with goals that have a purpose and build a team of like-minded teammates, then no competitor becomes a long-term threat. And if a competitor truly brings purpose into their mission, then it raises the bar on all of us. And one final note: When a company knows its purpose, it fires up the passion in all the people it attracts, and when this occurs, work is no longer work and creates an unstoppable work ethic and crucible for creativity.
If you're thinking of taking the leap to chart your own entrepreneurial path, whether inside an existing company or out on your own, trust me when I tell you that you'll never regret the journey. It won't be easy, but in the words of a military recruiter: "It'll be the hardest thing you'll ever love."
CHARLIE MIKE -- ALDEN
Alden Mills, creator of the Perfect Pushup, is CEO of Perfect Fitness, based in California. Mills went to the Naval Academy and went on to become a Navy SEAL. After retiring in 2000, he earned his MBA at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. His ultimate mission is to inspire everyone to pursue their own dreams. For more, check out www.perfectonline.com.
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