The 1,10,100 rule

Years ago somebody told me about the 1,10,100 rule of innovation. And so far, everything I have seen has confirmed that it is true.

It goes something like this: Let’s say that it takes about 1 unit of effort to create a working demo of your new idea.

If you want to know what it will cost in time and effort to turn that working demo into a beta version of a commercial product, multiply by 10. Now, at that point you don’t have an actual marketable product — you just have a beta version.

However, unlike that first demo, what you have will actually look like a product. In the software world, that means it will have a proper user interface, it will work with various file formats, it will have that all important “undo” function, it will run on all the right hardware platforms, and it will be in the form of an app that can actually be distributed to users, with the proper security protocols built in.

But what if you want to actually make money from your idea? Well then you need to multiply your time and effort by another factor of 10. Because now you will need to have removed all the bugs and put in place a system for periodic updates, you’ll need to do marketing, outreach and accounting, you will need a proper structure to manage and house your staff, a good implementation of data security, and probably some layer of IP protection as well.

Which is one reason that I spend my time doing academic research. My cost multiplier is always 1.

2 thoughts on “The 1,10,100 rule”

  1. If you have to build all the business infrastructure from scratch, then yes, it’s 100x to a get a commercially viable product. But if you’re working at a company that’s already built those facilities (think Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, Google, etc.) then the number is much less. Maybe 20-40x in my experience.

    This is a challenge for people trying to break into the business. E.g., Tiktok had to invest the full 100x to get a viable product, whereas YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels can get up and running with much less effort.

  2. Yes, that is very true.

    On the other hand, if you are working at a large company you generally don’t get to spend as much of your time developing those new ideas.

    So the large company gets the benefit of a smaller multiplier from idea to product, whereas the individual inventor gets a multiplier on the use of their own time.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if those two factors end up balancing out.

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