The Perilous Path From Technology To Product

Just because a product can do more doesn’t mean it should—or that you’ll get paid for it.


I spend a lot of my time talking to people about technology and about bringing technology products to market. Along the way I find myself regularly discussing three common dilemmas that technologists have, and in this post I wanted to share those with you.

On to the three topics:

1) It’s not about technology. More correctly I should say it’s not just about technology. The trend set by Google (with others now following) is that technology leads all — focus only on technology, nothings else matters because product success is only driven by technology.

Unfortunately, unless you have very deep pockets (Google), or are dealing with technology that is very cheap to create and scale (many Web 2.0 startups), this is simply not a practical approach.

Over the years I’ve seen many great technologies fail simply because there was no solid vision for what the product should be and what quantifiable and monetizable value it delivers to the user is. Throwing technology against the wall to see what sticks is simply not practical, especially in a segment as complex as semiconductor and systems design.

It’s the small but critical things that transform a great technology into a great product.

2) Just because a product can, doesn’t mean it should. Technology can be a wonderful thing, and in many cases a single technology can target multiple areas. But beware: This often leads to products that are a jack of all trades, master of none.

What is the problem with this approach? Well, first it means you create a product that lacks focus and distributes the limited resources you have too widely. Second, it discounts the value the product delivers. If a customer uses only half the capabilities in a product, they automatically perceive they are only receiving half the value and will negotiate price from that point of view. By adding extra capabilities, you may actually be reducing the revenue potential of the product.

There are numerous cases where removing capabilities from a product led to a more focused offering that delivered higher value, and thus was able to command higher prices. A similar approach is to split a single technology into more narrowly focused products, each of which is sold on its own merit.

Probably the company best known for this is Apple. Every time it releases a new product, technical experts jump online to talk about what the product fails to do and how the product will fail as a result. Yet the reality is that the narrower focus ensures a better product and a higher price. I’ll never forget the HTC Windows phone I bought shortly after the iPhone came out. On paper it was superior in every way. One day, with time, I hope to forget that experience…

3) Evolution beats Revolution. We like to throw around the term revolution a lot, and talk about how the revolutionary product wins. We must be careful, however, not to confuse marketing with reality. Very few products that are marketed as revolutionary really are revolutionary. They are simply evolutions of existing technologies.

In an effort to create revolutionary products I see technologists reaching too far, delivering big benefits, but with too much effort needed in adoption—or moving people too far away from their comfort zone. In many cases simply scaling back on the initial vision means that 80% of the value can be delivered with only 20% of the effort for the consumer to adopt.

This evolutionary path is much easier for products to take, and that’s why it works in nature. Show someone a better and easier way of doing what they struggle with and adoption happens quickly. Latter add capabilities back to take them on a journey to your original destination.

So there you have it, hardly groundbreaking concepts, but important ones that I see people lose track of as they try to move a technology from concept to product. For some of you they may seem obvious, for others they may almost appear sacrilegious. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.


Ken Rygler says:

I’ve been in B2B technology marketing for 40+ years and worked with all the major semiconductor manufacturers and OEMs around the world. Outsiders perceive these industries as fast-moving, fast changing and dynamic. The fact is engineers in these firms are conservative and risk-averse. Presenting them with a new technology/product which is superior in both performance and cost is no guarantee of success. In fact, unless the incumbent is failing to deliver its anticipated performance and cost targets, your offering will probably fail. Superiority is often insufficient vs. the status quo and adequacy. Success depends solely on an intimate understanding of the customers needs, goals, objectives, and the customer organization.

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