Steve Hoffman, The Key Ingredients to Building a Successful Innovation Team – InnovaBuzz 435

Steve Hoffman

Steve Hoffman, Founders Space

In this episode, I’m really excited to have as my guest, Steve Hoffman, or Captain Hoff as he’s called in Silicon Valley, the Captain & CEO of Founders Space, one of the world’s leading startup accelerators. He’s also a venture investor, serial entrepreneur, and author of several award-winning books. These include “Make Elephants Fly” and “Surviving a Startup”.

Steve launched Founders Space, with the mission to educate and accelerate entrepreneurs. Steve has trained hundreds of startup founders and corporate executives in the art of innovation and provided consulting to many of the world’s largest corporations, including Qualcomm, Huawei, Bosch, Intel, Disney, Warner Brothers, NBC, Gulf Oil, Siemens, and Viacom.

In our discussion, Steve talked to me about:

  • What innovators should do first before they come up with any ideas
  • The essential ingredients that innovation teams must possess
  • Celebrating “failure” in a way that we learn from that

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

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Every idea isn't worth your love unless it proves itself and unless the customer falls in love with it. @FoundersSpace on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

Show Notes from this episode with Steve Hoffman of Founders Space

Key points and takeaways from this episode include:

  • Technology makes things more efficient. You can undercut existing players by simply using technology to deliver goods and services more efficiently and at a lower cost, and most importantly, add more features that you could offer.
  • To balance disruptive innovation with your core business, you have to be prepared to totally cannibalise your business. You cannot worry about killing your business. You need to have the right mindset. 
  • Take a fresh talent or an existing talent in your company that is really untapped and put them into this new organisation. You can’t put them into an existing one because the existing one will be focusing on what they do best.
  • Don’t start with the idea. Whatever idea you have is just an idea in your head. It doesn’t matter unless you take that idea out into the real world to start to see if it works.
  • When you’re too focused on the idea, it ends up blocking your win. 
  • Your first job is to go outside and get evidence. Engage with your customers and figure out if they really need it.
  • Don’t fall in love with the idea. It doesn’t matter how much you love your idea. It’s your customer that has to love your idea. You can be as passionate as you want about your idea, but if your customers are not passionate about it, you’ll end up not having anything.
  • Start with picking an area that you are interested in innovating on. You don’t have to come up with a specific idea. Just start by trying different things in that area with different technologies and find out what really resonates.
  • Every idea isn’t worth your love unless it proves itself and unless the customer falls in love with it.
  • Forget all about your ideas and pick different areas in your business that you want to innovate and experiment on. And then, spend all of your time selecting the right people. Because at the end of the day, it’s the people and not the ideas that matter.
  • Innovation teams need to be able to try different things, and you need to understand that they are going to fail. 
  • You don’t have an innovation team if you always knew the answer at once. Innovating is not knowing what the answer is and then going outside to try to figure it out.
  • Always pick the right people – people who are naturally curious and are always asking questions, as well as people who like to play with technology. 
  • Every innovation team needs to have at least one or more people who are:
    1. Technologists – people who are so enamored with technology that they are always trying new things.
    2. Designers – people who can create the best customer experience because people will always gravitate towards a product that gives them the experience.
    3. A Project Lead – somebody who can give it a vision, sell that vision, and who can get other parties on board. It has to be someone who is strategic enough to make it a win-win for other parties in the company to get the resources they need to grow.
  • Give your innovation team the permission to try whatever they want. Don’t micromanage them, rather give them the autonomy to work on their own.
  • Efficiency doesn’t matter when you’re innovating. In fact, it is your enemy. You don’t want your team to be efficient. You want them to make mistakes and try different things that don’t work. It’s important to let them know that that they can try these things without the risk of damaging their reputation or their career.
  • Reward the person who decides to kill a project. Celebrate killing off these projects and let people share what they’ve learnt.
  • The metrics for quantifying and measuring the success of a traditional business are not the same as the metrics for an innovation team. A traditional business measures revenue, profit, and liability. For an innovation team, it’s all about how fast they can navigate through the innovation loop.
  • The Innovation Loop
    1. Have an idea.
    2. Finding out if your idea works – develop, design, and experiment.
    3. Put that experiment into the real world as closely as you can with real customers.
    4. Gather and analyse the data.
    5. Decide if you need to run another experiment – did it work or did it kill your idea? Do you need to shift your focus and pivot a little to make it work? What did you learn?
    6. Rinse and repeat.
  • The metrics in which you judge the progress and performance of your innovation team should be in terms of how fast they can get through the innovation loop and the quality of data they are gathering, how good are the experiments they design, and how smart and strategic are the decision they are making based on these data. 
  • Just like a scientist, your job isn’t to prove that your hypothesis is true but to find out what’s real.
  • The faster and smarter your innovation team can run their experiments, the more they learn and the closer they get to the ultimate answer.
Your job isn't to prove that your hypothesis is true but to find out what's real. @FoundersSpace on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Steve’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 – Expose yourself to more ideas. Gather as much knowledge of the world as you can, and not just within your discipline. Bring people into your organisation who are from different backgrounds. Learn from them, watch them, and most importantly, always keep asking questions.
  2. Best thing for new ideas – Putting yourself into new situations and having the commitment to try new things.
  3. Favourite tool for innovation – Audiobooks.
  4. Keep project/client on track – Rely on your team to do it. Ask them how you can keep the project on track.
  5. Differentiate – Understand what your competitors are doing. Competition is the reason why you have to be different. Understand not only what they do but also how they position themselves to their customers, what the customers think about them, why they are going to them, and more importantly, what value are they getting from them. Make sure that you are able to deliver that core value that the customer really needs that nobody else can. 

To Be a Leader

Try to make your work as exciting as possible. Take initiative and always challenge yourself.

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Steve through their website.

Suggested Guest

Steve suggested we have a conversation with Tom Poland of Leadsology. So Tom, keep an eye on your inbox for an invitation from us to the InnovaBuzz Podcast, courtesy of Steve Hoffman.



Cool Things About Steve

  • He started his career as an entrepreneur designing and developing games.
  • He worked as a TV development executive at Fries Entertainment, known for producing over a hundred TV shows, acquired by MGM. 
  • He worked as Mobile Studio Head for Infospace, with such hit mobile games as Tetris, Wheel of Fortune, Tomb Raider, Thief, Hitman, Skee-Ball, and X-Files.
You don't have an innovation team if you always knew the answer at once. Innovating is not knowing what the answer is and then going out there to try to figure it out. @FoundersSpace 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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