Sean Sheppard, Why Innovations Fail and What You Can Do About It – InnovaBuzz 332

Sean Sheppard

Sean Sheppard, GrowthX

In this episode, I’m really excited to have as my guest, Sean Sheppard, founding partner of GrowthX. In addition to helping dozens of startups find product-market fit and predictable revenue models, Sean helps global multinationals to identify new applications for their existing technology portfolio, bring new products to market with profitable business models, and organize and train self-managing early product-stage sales and marketing teams.

Sean was named as One of the Top Sales Influencers You Should Be Following On Social Media. Sean is an active mentor, advisor and guest lecturer at global startup accelerators, innovation conferences, and colleges and universities. He’s now committed to working with countries, companies, entrepreneurs and those who want to work with them on building startup ecosystems and developing the next generation of leaders for the innovation economy.

In our discussion, Sean and I talked about:

  • The biggest problem innovative products have and that’s product-market fit
  • How to embed a learning framework in your organisation
  • The skills necessary to thrive in the knowledge economy

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

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Most startups and product launches fail not because of products and technology but because of markets and people. @SeanASheppard on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

Show Notes from this episode with Sean Sheppard of GrowthX

Key points and takeaways from this episode include:

  • Market development is the biggest problem that startups are facing. Most startups and product launches fail not because of products and technology but because of markets and people.
  • The Market Acceleration Program is a framework for helping companies find product-market fit. It is designed to do three things. If you can do these three things you can build a sustainable and lasting product in the market. 
    1. Find the truth about where a product fits in the market and what to do about it.
    2. Create a functional learning organisation out the team of people who are responsible for doing that, and
    3. Find a profitable business model through the course of that.
  • In today’s age of applied innovation where it has never been easier to get products launched, it has also never been more difficult to get traction for those products in the market. You need an approach that is very much focused on finding product-market fit before you invest too much in building something to your own vision as opposed to the problems that the customers are facing.
  • Taking a product to the market is not about selling products to customers. It’s about recruiting partners that share your vision, understand your current reality, and are willing to invest their time and truth in the journey to get you from your current reality to that vision.
  • Stage relevant skillset is more than just a person’s background or experience.
  • You need to have people who can embrace ambiguity and can communicate well across functional areas of a customer as well as inside your organisation. They need to understand what customers want and translate that back to the product people. They have to love technology but don’t necessarily need to be technologists. Most importantly, they need to have a learn-it-all mindset that drives that learning and recognise how to accelerate it.
  • Accelerate your path through the learning curve with innovators and adopters to the point where you can assume a position of market leadership in a way that shows the mainstream that you have credibility.
  • The five kinds of people in the world when it comes to how they respond to change:
    1. Innovators
    2. Early Adopters
    3. The Majority
    4. Skeptics
    5. Laggards
  • Innovators are great for early product feedback. They will help you build something that is functional and useful, but typically don’t have a budget or stay in power.
  • Early adopters are the ones that are going to carry forward and help you find your business model. They are ready to take calculated risks for strategic reasons, and they typically have a budget. Their vision aligns with yours and they see an exponential return on working with you early to create a competitive advantage or transformational change.
  • The three steps for developing a business are creation, standardization, and optimisation.
  • Keep your customer journey as simple as you possibly can. Customer journey mapping, customer and user experience, pre-sale, onboarding, implementation, and post-sale are all important but keep those things as simple as possible.
  • The number one barrier to change is barriers. Remove all the barriers to change. Make it as easy as possible for people to change their behaviour even if it is just incremental to get them to change.
  • Your number one competitor is not some other vendor. It is changing the way people are doing things. 
  • People don’t want more work. They want less. When presenting a new proposition to people, you need to show them how it is less work and how easy it is for them to make that change.
  • Timing is the number one factor for success. It’s about bringing something to market at the right time when the market is ready for that kind of change.
  • Most things are not defensible. Most things can quickly and easily be copied. You constantly need to innovate and reinvent yourself and stay out in front of the technology adoption curve.
  • Stage 1 is all about going fast and going alone. Get the smallest that you need and create functional learning, which means optimising the feedback loops.
  • Do the things that don’t scale to scale later.
  • Digital products are very different from physical products. How you take it to market, onboard it, and support it are very different.
  • The resources you need and have to do while you are still learning are very different than what they will be once you do achieve scale.
  • Organise functional learning with a very small group of people that can support a statistically significant cohort of early customers and partners that you can learn with. 
  • Learning needs to be surgical and focused. It needs to have real measurable objectives, and those objectives need to be transparent and communicated to your customers as well as your stakeholders in a way that shows that learning is a progress that will eventually lead to revenue.
  • Innovation is more of a methodology than a process. A methodology has a process and an approach that is very much centered on learning. When you have an innovation process that is centered around a learning framework that is designed to seek product-market fit for an idea, before that idea is fully formed, and all capital and resources are invested in building it as if it’s already successful, and work your way back to the lab from there, you can reduce the time and cost to launch any innovation and improve its success rate.
  • Identify some initial customers that you can have conversations with and partner with to do joint development. This helps you identify key problems that your existing relationships have that you might be able to solve and prioritise what you work on based on that. Think about how you can do it together in a way that allows you in an iterative sense to solve their problem in a meaningful way, knowing full well that if you solve it for them, you can solve it for other customers.
  • The beauty of innovation is that every new innovation creates a whole new set of challenges associated with it, which creates a whole new set of opportunities for everyone.
  • Be a learn-it-all and not a know-it-all. Recognise that what you don’t know is more important than what you do.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. Remove the word rejection from your vocabulary and replace it with feedback. 
  • Feedback is a gift.
  • Develop EI in the age of AI. AI is never going to replace emotional intelligence and creativity.
  • Understanding how businesses work, how they make money, what drives them, and how you can contribute to that as an individual member of the society is critical.
  • Market acumen is the ability to quickly ramp up on a particular domain or area of expertise. 
  • You can create subject matter expertise in a given area but you also need to have a well-rounded generalist view so that you can quickly adapt to the ever-changing environment in which you live. That comes from being creative, having a unique point of view and being able to articulate that. Understand and learn things quickly. If you can master those skills in your life, you are going to be valuable no matter what you want to do at any place and time.
  • The fastest way to learn something is to experience it.
  • If you have a concept, try and teach it back. Look at the gaps and fill in the gaps, because until you can teach it, you don’t fully understand it.
  • Take three key takeaways from every new experience. Write those down and have a conversation with yourself and others about those three things. You will absorb more from every new experience that way and be able to actually adopt it.
  • There is no distinction between personal and professional development in the innovation economy. You develop yourself as a person, and you develop yourself as a professional.
  • Every business model is human to human.
  • We tend to find what we focus on. The best way to approach life is to focus on the things that are going to make us better so we can help others.
  • Negative self-talk is one of the most dangerous things that anybody can do to themselves.
  • Mindfulness is a critical element of a growth mindset. 
The beauty of innovation is that every new innovation creates a whole new set of challenges associated with it, which creates a whole new set of opportunities for everyone. @SeanASheppard on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Sean’s answers to the questions of our innovation round. Listen to the conversation to get the full scoop.

  1. #1 thing to be more innovative – Have a growth mindset. Be a learn-it-all not a know-it-all. Be open to any and all possibilities. Be very much focused on your customers and their problems. Spend more time focused on what’s going around outside you than what’s going on inside.
  2. Best thing for new ideas – Collaborate.
  3. Favourite tool for innovation – Learning from other people.
  4. Keep project/client on track – Surround yourself with people who are really good at keeping things on track and hold you accountable. It’s people and markets that determine success, not products and tech.
  5. Differentiate – Have a unique point of view. Everyone comes to every situation with their own point of view and that is a collection of knowledge, experience, and environment. Don’t be afraid to share your point of view because your point of view is going to be unique in some way to the appropriate people. 

To Be a Leader

The number one reason why innovation fails is lack of proper execution. Find a framework or model that you can operate around that is going to help you find the truth about where your product fits in the market, create functional learning, and find a scalable business model.

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Sean through their website and on LinkedIn.

Suggested Guest

Sean suggested we have a conversation with Naval Ravikant, Founder of Angel List. So Naval, keep an eye on your inbox for an invitation from us to the InnovaBuzz podcast, courtesy of Sean Sheppard.


Cool Things About Sean

  • He was recently named the #2 Online Sales Influencer and contributor at The Huffington Post.
  • He’s a volunteer mentor at The Honor Foundation, The Antigua Forum, and Junior Achievement US.
  • He plays golf and was a Class A PGA Professional.
Be a learn-it-all and not a know-it-all. Recognise that what you don't know is more important than what you do. @SeanASheppard on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

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Jürgen Strauss

Dr. Jürgen Strauss is The World's Best Human-Centred Podcasting Coach and the only Podcast Innovator with the signature bright yellow headphones, who masterfully crafts human connection for high-impact achievers in a vibrant community. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, The InnovaBuzz Podcast, The Flywheel Nation Community as well as on Innovabiz' InstagramTwitter, Facebook pages and his personal Photography website.  

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