Years ago I ordered a pair of pants from Bonobos. They arrived in 48 hours. While that might seem like business as usual, back then it was not. (If you wanted faster delivery, you paid for it.)
That level of service made a huge impression, so much so that when I started my last company we pushed ourselves to deliver business cards -- a product we had to design and manufacture, not simply pull from a warehouse shelf -- in 48 hours. It was no small task, but we did it. And now we do the same in most of the bigger countries we serve.
We were far from alone in borrowing ideas from other startups, and other companies, of course. Most have turned "please allow five to seven days for your order to be processed" into same-day shipping. Countless businesses took a page from the Apple playbook by turning product packaging into a key element in the customer's experience. (Remember how it felt the first time you removed a Mac from its packaging? What was once an afterthought was turned into an event.)
In fact, the Samwer brothers, three of Europe's most successful internet entrepreneurs, have made a fortune building copycat companies.
But you don't have to go that far. Whenever you buy a product or use a service -- regardless of the industry -- you can take advantage of the opportunity to receive multiple benefits from that purchase.
Analyze the purchase process. Analyze your initial experience. Analyze your long-term experience. Break everything down in a methodical way so you can learn from it.
Take note of what you liked -- and didn't like.
Then borrow the ideas that will help improve your business.
Try it. The next purchase you make, commit to finding one thing you can use to improve your business. Maybe it's a website detail. Or a step in the checkout process. Or the effectiveness of post-sale communication. Maybe it's the packaging. Or how the product looks, feels, or operates. Or how it was marketed or advertised.
Don't stop until you find something, however small, that you can adopt.
Turn that process into a habit and you'll never run out of ways to improve your products, services, and company.
But don't stop there. Ask for help from existing relationships: customers, vendors, suppliers, etc.
For example, when trying to understand how we could best use direct mail, we looked to partners who fulfilled our orders. We realized that a huge chunk of business for the company that fulfills our U.S. pen orders is direct mail, and we worked with them -- while using their best practices -- to create custom, one-off mailers for thousands of our customers.
Even though what we needed was not a direct match in terms of model or scale or even industry, they were willing to help because, as a result, we both benefitted.
Since no one can know everything, smart entrepreneurs leverage experts as efficiently as possible. Sometimes that means getting help from people you know. Sometimes that means analyzing the purchases you make and the interactions you have with every business, from startups to corporations.
Your goal isn't to just be innovative. Your goal is to find innovations that better serve your customers and build your business.
That's what really matters.
That's why you should actively search for great ideas. Borrow them as often as you can.
And wherever you can find them.