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It's all about the product


The car-friendly guide to fixing human-made greenhouse emissions.

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It's all about the product

In the last few years I’ve met several entrepreneurs who have built new manufacturing operations from scratch. Most of them started with a product that they thought someone, somewhere, would probably like. That's not what the marketing textbooks say we should do. According to the theory, we are supposed to define a market need, estimate the market price, and then invent a product that satisfies these requirements at a price that allows us to sell it at a profit.

Technical entrepreneurs don’t work that way. At least, none that I’ve ever met. They get down in the shed (or a university lab) and knock up a prototype. Then they go looking for people who want to buy this incredibly exciting new invention.

New companies radiate energy and passion, like high school kids with their first cars. That’s why I like writing about them. When I find a new start-up with an interesting product I contact every relevant magazine I can think of and offer them an exciting story. This month I’ve written two “new startup” stories. One in particular got me very excited. When I thought about why, I realised it was because this company was all about its product. Oh, sure, their investors have got them thinking like marketing people: Sometimes. Mostly they’re playing with technology. That's what their customers are excited about.

Dieselpunk hot rod

At polytech studying business I heard all about how customers buy an "experience". We supposedly buy that car because of some touchy-feely something or other. Codswallop. Every car I’ve ever bought had to satisfy basic needs: It had to have enough boot to carry all the kids' gear; enough power to drag itself through the central North Island weighed down with all that gear; and it had to be able to tow my boat. OK, so now my toolkit fits in a shoulder bag, I don't have a race-boat, and my car can U-turn in Margaret Street. But when I bought that one, I was looking for something with four wheels, an engine, and more power than it really needed. Which, I guess, is pretty-much what Karl Benz had in mind back in the nineteenth century (He left off one wheel, but I think that's forgivable because he got everything else pretty right).

I reckon there is absolutely nothing wrong with building a solution and then going looking for a problem. That's what technologists do. Venture capitalists love it, because then they can teach the new company all about marketing. As long as they don't Dilbertise the place before it makes its first billion, that's fine.

New startups invigorate our community. They stimulate everyone around them, which is why Technology Valley should encourage any and all new high-tech start-ups, whether or not they follow our personal theories about how new companies should operate.

I reckon if nobody ever invented a solution before they knew what the problem was, humans would never have set foot on the moon.

Most of us would probably be wishing we could afford a horse. I much prefer four wheels and an internal combustion engine.

The point, of course, is to invent something that truly captures peoples’ imaginations. Like, say, those wonderfully useless America’s Cup boats duking it out in San Francisco. Or a jet propulsion system for a powerboat. Or how about a flying motorcycle?


Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Technologist who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your communication requirements: hello {a} He shamelessly plagiarised: "Dilbertise" from one of the smartest technologists he's ever met.

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