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October 1, 2020
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Innovation Through Naivety

A snippet from my book, ‘Love At First Sale’

To this day, being naive has been my guiding light towards creating new and exciting ways to run my business.

Business industry veterans have always been the go-to experts for entrepreneurs who wanted to start a successful startup; the hope is to learn what they did to reach their success, and replicate it as much as possible to achieve the same results.

Personally, I find that boring. I understand the value of learning from someone else to avoid their mistakes, definitely, but doing so limits your decisions. Learning and working on how things were done before corners you into a realm of what everyone knows is possible, blocking you out of ways to do things that have never been done or explored.

Take for example, Eight Media, my digital marketing agency. My agency has:

  • Never been marketed. We’ve never run advertisements to get clients online of offline.
  • Never had a real branding exercise— our logo for almost three years came from a free logo making site.
  • Never won awards.
  • Never had an office until our second year of operations.
  • Never had investors, or gotten a loan.
  • And never had sales agents to close leads.

And yet:

  • We’re currently being recommended left and right.
  • Our service beats out agencies that have been running for years (according to our clients, and some competitors themselves).
  • We’ve grown to a super fun team of 9 people full-time, plus 10+ part-time.
  • And we’re currently working with awesome brands locally in the Philippines and internationally.

When I started running my agency full-time with just two co-founders, I didn’t have the slightest idea on how to run a marketing agency. All I knew was there were a lot of agencies out there that had a sprinkling of intimidating acronyms in their list of services (PPC, SEO, SEM, etc.)

I honestly didn’t have a clue what each of them meant until we started getting clients. With most agencies just shoving services into clients faces to earn a sale, we instead came from the essence of naivety and created a “dating” process of getting to know the client’s problems first to understand which services they actually needed (and which services we had to learn).

This process of asking and learning lead to more bespoke engagements instead of one-size-fits-all packages, leading to better results and better client relationships. If we had copied what bigger agencies did and offered the same package to every client, then I don’t believe we’d be able to experience the same success as we have now.

If there’s one rule that I keep close to heart, it’s that there are no rules. Starting a business that you love doesn’t have strict step-by-step requirements that you should take in order to get it off the ground. In the same way, copying someone else’s journey step-by-step will only limit you into doing things that you know is possible.

What about exploring the things that people deem impossible? “Impossible” ideas don’t have to be hard. When people think about innovation, they always think about the big leaps that change the world; from telephones to smartphones, to wired internet to wi-fi; impossible things become possible because of innovation.

But innovation carries a certain weight to its meaning, with people sometimes defining it as sometimes bordering into magic. Take the iPhone for example; twelve years ago, who in the world would think that a simple product could revolutionize the way we see communication? With the iPhone, Apple focused on one specific thing: how people interacted with smartphones. Phones at the time were chunky, hard to use, and was commonly used with a stylus for their touchscreen. Apple made a device that was sleek and sexy, had apps that felt natural to use (“You had me at scrolling.” - Apple Keynote, 2007), and was used with an input device that rivaled the stylus in every way: the human finger. Microsoft, Blackberry, and Nokia at the time laughed at the iPhone, believing that no other phone could stand their dominance in the smartphone market, let alone a phone that was used way differently than what everyone else was doing.

But through a simple device, industries were created; from social media, to mobile gaming, down to even online banking— all from Apple asking themselves absurd, “naive” questions such as how taking the keyboard away from current smartphones could work, how touch screens could work without a stylus, and how turning a business-centric mobile device could become more usable and entertaining for the common man. Of the three companies that hated on Apple, only Nokia remains standing in the smartphone race at only 1% market share (as of 2019). Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, but they sure as hell innovated the hell out of it.

In reality, innovation is merely bridging the gap between the known and the unknown, with innovators at the center of finding things out on how things are currently understood, and how they could be pushed forward into new and exciting applications.

When people call me naive for jumping into things blind, I take it as a compliment— having the childlike experience of trying new things out, uncertain of the outcome, pushes you into a constant fail-then-learn cycle at how things work. Going in blind and failing helps you understand WHY things don’t work— but more excitingly, it also helps you understand HOW you could make it work.

When the majority of people flock to a certain belief, it’s a good sign to step back and understand why people do so. Innovation doesn’t have to be you creating the next iPhone-killer. Sometimes it’s just you finding the kid inside you and exploring how you could find new ways on how to approach established ideas.

Gerald Castillo © 2021