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9 Ways It Pays to Imitate

How Imitation Can Lead to the Next Best Innovation

Let me ask you this: What constitutes something as an “innovation?” What sets an innovation apart from an invention?

For most people, there really isn’t a clear-cut answer. Of course, an innovation improves an existing product. For example, mp3 players were around long before Apple introduced the iPod. However, many people believe Apple invented the mp3 player. What Apple did do, though, was take an existing idea and innovated it into the mp3 player we know today. Practically everyone has an iPod, and it is something people love. 

Like Apple, successful innovations do not necessarily need to be something people have never seen before. Some of the best innovations aren’t straight-up inventions. The most influential companies in the world–Google, Facebook, you name it–allowed their predecessors to establish a market first. Then, they swooped in with improved technology and business models and dominated the market.

That being said, if you’re looking to create the latest and greatest thing to hit the consumer market since sliced bread, you don’t need to look as far as you think. Imitation is a great way to innovate. Look around. Think about what it is in your life that could be optimized and made more efficient.

Here are 9 Reasons Why It Pays to Imitate (according to Inc. Magazine)

1. Refining is easier

Whenever you learn something completely new, there is always a learning curve. Imagine trying to create a new innovation from scratch. So much time and energy goes into researching the market trends, and after awhile, your new innovation doesn’t get implemented. It just takes too much effort!

By imitating a current product and refining it, you can skip all of that. The learning curve is not nearly as steep.

2. Benchmark your progress

It’s hard to know your progress if you don’t know where you should be by a certain point. Starting points are necessary for any business, but you have no way to compare where you are at with where you should be. Imitating allows you to analyze where other have succeeded. Also, you know your decisions aren’t arbitrary. It gives you insights into the success of other companies, but more importantly, their failures.

3. Spend your money better

If one thing is for certain when it comes to launching a new product, it’s that is costs money…and lots of it. Some of the biggest costs come from educating consumers. You need to convince people to buy your new product. It’s way easier to convince someone to buy your product if they are already familiar with the concept behind the product. Going back to Apple, people already had mp3 players, but the iPod offered so much more. It was easier for people to buy an iPod knowing the function behind it.

Simply put, let someone else spend the money on educating consumers. That way, you can spend your money improving on what your predecessors did.

4. Learn from their mistakes

A new innovation is bound to have its flaws. Imitation let’s you cut to the front of the line and create something with these flaws in mind. It let’s you fix any bugs that were found in the initial plan. You can then offer an upgraded product.

5. Remain nimble

Sometimes, the “leaders” of a current market you’re aiming to innovate are so big and bureaucratic that quick change is almost impossible. They have so much red tape to go through that they lag on innovation. This is where you come in. By being nimble, you always have the ability to change and innovate when need be.

6. Research better

Consumer research is easier if consumers are already familiar with your product or services. When you create an entirely new product from scratch, it is hard to conduct focus groups. When there are already first-movers in the market you want to enter, you are able to sit down with people and hear what they have to say. What is the market doing right? What is it doing wrong?

7. Make yours better

Why is “New and Improved” such a popular marketing tool? People love things that are the same but with small differences. This fact alone is a reason why it pays to imitate. The majority of people buy products they are already familiar with.

8. Learn marketing tips

Pay attention to the marketing of an existing product in your potential market. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and every other social media site they’re on. Read any publications they are featured in. Read consumer reviews. Doing all of this allows you to figure out your marketing strategies.

9. Get funded

According to John Paul Engel of Knowledge Capital Consulting, “It’s much easier to get funding if an idea is already proven in the market. After the initial success of MySpace, for example, investors were more willing to open their check books for companies like Facebook.”

Especially in this economy, lenders want to know that you have a good chance of succeeding in your venture. Imitating shows lenders that there is already something out there, and you can make it better.

How we do it

At HUMAN, we used a lot of these tips to create our healthy vending business. We didn’t invent the vending machine. We imitated much of the machine’s components and upgraded it. We gave it a face lift, stocked it with 100% healthy options, and installed the most innovative technology.

HUMAN machines look nothing like traditional vending machines, but they are vending machines. It’s all about how we improved them that made the difference.

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Is Fast Food Really Cheaper than Healthy Food?

Busting the Common Myth Once and For All

We all know the excuses for eating fast food.:

“It’s so much easier”

“I’m always in a rush and don’t have time to cook at home”

“It’s cheaper…I can’t afford healthy food”

As true as this may sound, it isn’t necessarily true. Sure, you can go through a fast food drive thru and get served a meal in less than 5 minutes. A lot of fast food places even offer “family meal deals,” where you can feed your whole family for less than $20. You can get a lot of things cheaper in life if you trade off value. Only focusing on the cheap cost of fast food ignores the value you get for your money with healthy food.

A recent article in The Huffington Post sought out to take a closer look at the fast food vs. healthy food cost debate.

One example that comes to my mind is KFC’s $14 Bucket Deal, which consists of a bucket of fried chicken, a couple sides, and biscuits. This may sound like an amazing deal (even though it is extremely unhealthy), but let’s take a second look.

Fourteen dollars. This actually can go a long way when feeding a family. Fourteen dollars will buy you two pounds of lean ground turkey, a package of whole wheat buns, and some lettuce and low-fat salad dressing. That’s a complete balanced meal.

So why is it we get so hung up on the cost of fast food if we can spend the exact same amount of money on healthy food? The answer leads the way to another common belief: fast food is faster and more convenient than cooking healthy food.

Again, not necessarily! Putting a chicken in the oven takes 5 minutes to prepare. Making a salad with chopped veggies takes about 10 minutes to prepare. That’s a total of 15 minutes. How long would it take you to get in the car, drive to the fast food restaurant, get your food, and drive back? I would bet it takes longer than 15 minutes.

There are thousands of healthy recipes available online that are quick, easy, and inexpensive. And, you save so much money just from cooking at home.

When it comes down to it, the “eating fast food is cheaper than healthy food myth” is just that: a myth.

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Biomedical Engineer who earned his degree from The Johns Hopkins University & Columbia University. Named one of Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 in 2013. Co-Founded America’s first Pure Play healthy vending company in 2003.
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