You Don’t Need to Invent It, Only to Identify It


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If you want to build a successful startup or company and make a lot of money with it, especially in the tech sector, you need to come up with some innovative product or service. Something that will drastically improve the way things get done, something that will solve an existing problem in a much better way, something that will allow people to do things they couldn’t before.

Most people know that.

What most people don’t know is that you can build such a company even if you don’t invent the product/service yourself. Instead of inventing it you can identify someone else’s idea, purchase the rights to it or partner with the inventor, and then bring it to the market.

Not convinced? Here’s a powerful example that backs up my case.

Most of the early database systems used a hierarchical model, where data would be represented under tree-like structures using files in the computer memory. Then in 1970 a guy named Edgar F. Codd published a paper titled “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks”, where he proposed a new model based on relations (tables), where users would be able to declare directly what information they wanted back from the database, and the system would take care of the rest.

Codd was working at IBM during that time, but the upper management didn’t give his idea any attention. Peer reviews of his paper were even more harsh. Here’s a quotation from one of them:

This paper proposes that all data in a database be represented in the form of relations–sets of tuples–and that all the operations relative to data access be made on this model. Some of the ideas presented in the paper are interesting and may be of some use, but, in general, this very preliminary work fails to make a convincing point as to their implementation, performance, and practical usefulness.

Adding together the lack of any real-world example, performance experiment, and implementation indication or detail, we are left with an obscure exercise using unfamiliar mathematics and of little or no practical consequence. It can be safely rejected.

There was one guy, however, that thought Codd’s idea was interesting, and he decided to build a company that would develop and sell databases using the relational model. That guy is called Larry Ellison, and the company he co-founded is called Oracle Corporation. The relation model quickly became the de facto standard for databases around the world, and Oracle the largest company developing and selling those systems.

The interesting thing is that in this case the revolutionary idea was just that, a concept. It wasn’t a patent or a proprietary design, so anyone was free to use it, and many did.

Want some more examples?

Apple and Steve Jobs didn’t invent many of the flagship products of the company. The mouse and the graphical user interface, for instance, were invented at Xerox’s PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), and Jobs came across them while visiting the premises. He then made a deal to be able to use them with the Mac, and Apple became the first company to launch bring those innovations to the market. Similarly Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, but it managed to polish the concept with the iPod, which became the industry leader.

MS-DOS was the product that solidified Microsoft’s dominance as a software vendor, back in 1980. Microsoft didn’t create that product, however. They knew a company called Seattle Computer Products which had a compatible operating system to the x86 microprocessors (the ones used by PCs), and they knew they probably would be able to purchase it for a moderate price. With those cards in hand they approached IBM, and they managed to close a deal to supply the operating system to the next line of PCs. Once the deal was closed they purchased the software from the Seattle company and renamed it MS-DOS.

The bottom line: keep your radar on and always be looking for innovative ideas and products, as identifying one of them can be just as profitable as inventing one yourself.

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13 Responses to “You Don’t Need to Invent It, Only to Identify It”

  • Jav

    Sometimes an idea takes time and the right circumstances, realized, they originated from an idea dikreasikan da dream with hard work. interesting posts and motivates me

  • Richard Ng

    Totally agreed with you Daniel! How many Einsteins can there be in the first place?? 😉

    In the age of curation, it is more important to sniffing around for sparkling great ideas/invention!


  • indrajeet rai

    Hello Danial,
    i couldn’t agree with you more, we don’t need to invent every time, sometime we just need to look around to find what we wanted to invent ,it’s just a matter of identification. if you can identify then you don’t have to invent it. steve jobs is my idol , i learned many things from him.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @John, it’s not a plan, more like a natural path. I am trying to grow my startup these days, so those topics are coming to my mind more frequently, hence why I am writing about them.

  • Greg

    That’s right. We don’t always be the first. Thanks for sharing 😉


  • John @ 109 Sales/Day Affiliate

    hey Daniel,

    I see you kind of shifting from posting content about blogs into startups… is this your game plan? 🙂

  • Jaykrishna Yadav

    yet another great thought from daniel, inventions are made to be enjoyed and for making full use of it

  • Ram Shengale

    Hey Daniel very interesting and thought provoking post. Its true that you don’t have to invent it to make it work.


  • Rinkesh

    Interesting post Daniel. I could relate to the examples given by you in the post. Not all successful people were inventors. Some partnered with others while other purchased the copyrights and enjoyed their life after.

  • Petr Bednarik

    But sometimes innovation does not lead to success. Just look at Intel’s Larrabee, which ended in failure. Intel claimed that the new processor Larrabee will replace the graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD. Finally, Larrabee showed very weak. Its future is uncertain.

  • Vikas

    I am totally impressed by the information given here in this post.

  • Darnell Jackson

    Good point Daniel,

    Most of innovation comes from applying existing technology to a new use.

    These are the inventions that have you saying, “why didn’t I think of that.”

    The easiest way to find a solution is to find COMMON problems that people share.

    That’s the ticket.

  • Rahul Krishnan

    Very useful post. I have been looking for this type of a post bcoz i want to start a graphic company. Thanks.

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