One of the biggest mistakes that technology founders of tech startups make is that they spend entirely too much time in trying to perfect the technology. This is particularly pronounced in Continental Europe, as against the US, where the culture of commercialising innovations is much more ingrained.
The Silicon Valley culture is exemplified by IDEO, which has helped some of the Valley’s greatest companies by designing iconic products. Their focus is not to spend months on end to make a product, but to drive teams to create prototypes in hours. Their belief is that having a product prototype is far more real than the best presentation and can enable users to experience it and give feedback in more meaningful ways.
It is only when you take the product to customers that you begin to get feedback on how it will function. More importantly, as a technology entrepreneur, you often consider the greatest value of the product lies in its technological excellence. On the contrary, the greatest value of any product lies in what it enables for customers. These are vastly different things and often, the advantage derived from technological excellence is offset by the complexity of making the products in scale. Technology entrepreneurs come from the world of research, where it is par for the course to create something devilishly complicated before lunch, and do an encore around tea-time. However, successful companies thrive on replicability and zero-failure rates, which only comes from simplifying technology to make it manufacture-ready.
There’s another risk of trying to get technology-excellence to the market. It always takes longer than you expect, since you often find that the machines required to manufacture your product don’t exist and need to be custom-designed. The process of making the whole thing work also needs to be defined. As it occurs with first-time attempts, things don’t quite work as expected. This entails time delay, which ultimately results in competitors moving ahead. If it’s a global market need, the competitors with simpler products or stronger partnerships can rapidly move ahead and create platforms, and in the process, the bulk of the market demand. This only leaves tiny verticals that you can address, forcing your product to be consigned to the niche segment.
Failure is the most valuable step in a startup, since it enable you to ‘pivot’ or recognise perceived value for your customers. That’s the value you get paid for, no more and no less. You ignore this at your own peril. This is why, for any kingdom to survive, when the king dies, the new king is immediately crowned. And so continues the dynasty.
Get your product to your customers fast, listen to them, and give them what they want. And may you, as Spock says, ‘Live long and prosper.’