To launch our new Innovation Spotlight, we asked our entrepreneurial cover stars: “What is the greatest innovation you’ve come up with, and what did it take to make it reality?” The answers surprised us—one said her big innovation is still in the works, while the others reminded us that innovation involves a healthy amount of failure.
Read on for Meghan Asha, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart and Payal Kadakia’s hard-won insights … and some serious inspiration.*
The idea: innovation can be inspired by other industries
Meghan Asha of FounderMade has already rewritten the rules for what it takes to get a new wellness, food or beauty business off the ground. Put simply, she founded a business to help other founders succeed. Through carefully crafted conferences, she connects innovative lifestyle brands with investors, distributors and consumers so the newbies can swiftly scale.
Even so, she says her biggest innovation is still to come.
“What I’m dying to launch, my dream for a while, is technology that is going to help drive commerce and the connections of the brands to their most valuable constituents, which is retail and sales. Think of IMDb, the film database—the guy was obsessed with filmmakers and the industry. I think the consumer sector needs a database for brands and retailers.”
She has already established the website’s basic structure (what’s called “wireframing”) and has done user testing.
“You always have to convince 100 people—that’s part of being an entrepreneur. You have a vision and people think you’re crazy for a while. Then they think you’re successful.”
The switch from “you cray” to “you’re amazing” is coming. She’s confident.
“The first part of FounderMade was the conference; the next part will be the technology.”
The lesson: innovation is hard—and sometimes embarrassing
Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart’s company, Vaute, launched a decade ago as the world’s first vegan fashion brand. Her focus was on vegan winter jackets, and that meant finding innovative, hi-tech alternatives to materials like down, fur and silk. One of her coolest finds? Fibers made from plastic bottles retrieved from Italian rivers (yep, really).
“The fact that I would put all my blood, sweat and tears into reinventing the winter dress coat because I want to save animals allowed me to make something better than what was considered ‘good enough’ before,” says Hilgart. “I thought, ‘If no one else is going to do this, then I have to do it, and I won’t quit until it’s done.’”
Initially Hilgart planned to fund production based off wholesale orders, but the recession ruined that plan. She pivoted to individual pre-orders, but learned that quick reflexes don’t guarantee quick results. She ultimately had to tell preorder clients, “Sorry, we’re not ready,” and launch a full year later.
“I felt like a huge failure and I was so embarrassed,” she says. But, she learned an important lesson: “You have to just start. You only find out in real life—you can’t just hypothesize everything to perfection.”
The process: innovation through iteration
Payal Kadakia has a way of making ClassPass sound so simple. And yet by providing access to thousands of different fitness classes for one monthly fee, she’s completely changed how we get fit.
“With ClassPass, you’re not tied to a specific gym and its offerings. Instead, you’re free to take the classes you love with the instructors you adore—when and where you want,” sums up Kadakia. “Our members have booked 45 million reservations through our system—that’s 45 million hours of people’s lives we’ve enriched, and we’re just getting started.”
It’s a model that’s been so successful, you have to wonder why no one hit on it before. But Kadakia says the elegant logic of ClassPass took a long time to refine. ClassPass started with a different name and was initially a search engine (think OpenTable, but for getting fit)—not an actual membership that gave you access to those disparate classes.
“I never doubted our powerful mission, but it was challenging in the early days when we worked so hard on products that weren’t quite right. Iteration is part of the entrepreneurial adventure,” she says. “Now people feel like a kid in a candy store with so many fitness options. We make what used to feel like an obligation empowering and fun.”
*To learn more about these powerful women, read “Total bosses”.