The latest innovation of today can quickly be replaced with the next best thing tomorrow. Whether you’re a newcomer to innovation or the seasoned innovator, there’s something every innovator should know. How to forecast and survive cycles of innovation. This week Ray Zinn, longest serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley, shares his insights. Ray’s astute ability to forecast what was coming enabled his company to survive the cycles of innovation.
Sage Advice: Don’t Work for Someone Else
In 1974, Ray’s boss conveyed a bit of advice. Don’t work for someone else. This advice set Ray on the entrepreneurial path. He started his own company. With $300,000 of self-funding, he started doing test services. It was challenging to start a company that was profitable from day one. Ray and his business partner managed it. By 1985, their company, Micrel Inc., hired a group of engineers and started designing their own products. Eventually, Samsung selected Micrel technology for their first cell phones. With blue chip clients, numerous inventions and patents in wireless radio and other areas, Micrel went public in 1994. Micrel was profitable every year through 2001. Despite the fact that Ray had to rebuild the whole company, it remained profitable.
Forecasting Innovation Cycles
How do you lead companies through the high rate of innovation change? Ray was able to accomplish this successfully. Ray learned the cycles of innovation so he could forecast them. You have to know the cycles so you can predict them for your company. How do you do this? Your customers are your best lead. The key to surviving these cycles is understanding them. Cycles last at the most five years. You must anticipate what is going to be the next winning product.
Getting Your Board Right
What were the insights Ray wished he had early on? Be careful about your Board. He elaborated on his biggest mistake – not being more selective on his Board of Director participation. Having a viable, helpful and contributable Board is critical. You want members who roll up their sleeves and add value where it’s needed. You don’t need board members who will pick you apart and create tension. Ray believes that Boards need to focus less attention on what investors or shareholders want. They need to put emphasis on what is best for the company and adds sustainable value. Boards should not be too independent. Independency leads to disconnect and a lack of understanding a company’s intricacies and operation.
The Zinn Starter
With his wealth of experience in the heart of the startup capital of the world, Ray wanted to give back. He created the Zinn Starter, a seed investment firm akin to Shark Tank for universities. Almost every university in this country has an entrepreneur program. The Zinn Starter consists of students taking their business ideas before a Board. If the Board approves the concept, the student has the opportunity to start a company while still a student. Zinn Starter is limited to fully enrolled university students. It is part of the entrepreneur program for six universities. The program has been running for two years with over five thousand students participating.
Ray has also written a book called Tough Things First. Used by many universities as a textbook, it covers his time with his company in Silicon Valley. You can track Ray at http://toughthingsfirst.com/. Visit his website to hear weekly podcasts and tips for entrepreneurs.
To hear Ray Zinn sharing his insights on how to survive cycles of innovation, listen to this week's show: How to Forecast and Survive Cycles of Innovation.