Spoiler alert: most of today's top companies are based on old ideas. Uber is a modern twist on the taxi industry; Airbnb has done the same with hotels. Tesla's electric vehicles are just another incarnation of a centuries-old idea. And yet the founders of these companies are heralded as the most innovative entrepreneurs of our time.

Entrepreneurship is rarely about inventing the next best thing -- it's about innovation, thinking differently about how things work, and asking questions others won't. You don't have to be revolutionary to be successful; you just need to revolutionize the way things are done.

Invention vs Innovation: What's the Difference?

These words are often used interchangeably, but they're very different. Inventors introduce a product or process for the very first time. Innovators identify opportunities to improve on existing inventions.

Not all inventors are entrepreneurs (in fact, that's a rarity). Likewise, entrepreneurs are hardly ever inventors -- but they are innovative. They don't have to come up with the big idea; they can take any idea and turn it into a successful business.

For example, Tim Berners-Lee invented the worldwide web but didn't turn it into a business. Richard Branson, on the other hand, hasn't invented anything; he improves on existing industries -- and he's dominated time and time again.

Of course, there are exceptions: Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are both inventor-entrepreneurs who revolutionized their respective industries. But people often mistake "entrepreneur" as an occupation -- when in reality, it's more of a mindset.

The Key to Success? Differentiation

Away is transforming the luggage industry by meeting real travelers' needs. Netflix took over the video rental space by bringing the movie store to your living room. The most successful businesses don't have to invent a completely new product -- but they do need to reinvigorate old ideas with new-and-improved tricks.

To rise above the noise and make your business heard, you need a core differentiator: the answer to why people should choose you over your competitors. Windows started developing a tablet years before the iPad came along -- but Steve Jobs created a more user-friendly interface and consistently maintained a competitive advantage.

This kind of thinking inspired 1-800-GOT-JUNK? (and our three additional brands). They're far from being the first companies of their kind -- but we set ourselves apart by professionalizing industries notorious for poor customer service. Staying ahead is about making things easier for your customers than any other company on the market. By thinking unconventionally about conventional things, you can make even the most ordinary things exceptional.

Published on: Jul 12, 2017