Filling An Unmet Need

Dave Pollard writes (part of his forthcoming book “Natural Enterprise”):

Every successful enterprise’s offerings (products and/or services) meet four criteria:

1. They fill an unmet business, social or consumer need.
2. The enterprise understood why the need wasn’t already being met, and overcame those obstacles.
3. The enterprise has the competencies to effectively create and deliver offerings that fill that need.
4. The enterprise has the resources to bring those offerings to the marketplace.

This may sound like a simple recipe, but it’s actually quite difficult to achieve. The market for products and services, though far from perfect, is reasonably efficient at identifying and satisfying needs. If you find an unmet need, there is almost surely a reason why that need isn’t being met by some other enterprise. You need to find out what that reason is, and overcome it. And then you need to gather a team of people with the collective competencies to design, produce, market and distribute the product or service that meets that need, and the resources (physical, financial and intellectual) needed to do so effectively. Easier said than done.

The key to doing this is in research, the difficult, time-consuming (but usually inexpensive) process of discovering the who, what, when, where, why and how of unmet needs. There are two kinds of research: Secondary research entails reading and browsing online to gather information that has already been published about the market, and need, and the possible solutions to it. Primary research entails talking to people directly to answer these questions, gathering unpublished information and intelligence. Successful needs identification usually stems from primary, not secondary research.

Five Tech Firms’ Tales

News.com writes about 5 tech companies at the crossroads – Netflix, PalmSource, Research In Motion, TiVo and Vonage.

Each sells a product or service considered brilliant. Each has drawn raves from consumers. “The test of an elegant and innovative idea is when you hear it and it makes you want to dope-slap yourself on the side of the head and say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?'” said Paul Saffo, a director of the Institute for the Future.

But that’s not always enough. For example, TiVo faces rising competition from cable providers undercutting TiVo with similar services. So it was hardly surprising when reports emerged this week that the company is considering a partnership with Netflix to download movies onto TiVo set-top video recorders.

“Competition has a tendency to drive out innovation,” said Roger Kay, an analyst with research firm IDC. “Others will try to commoditize an idea, while innovators need to charge a premium, so good ideas tend to have a short half-life.”

China Impressions

NW Venture has a report by Rich and John of “Marketing Playbook” who visited China recently. Here are their comments on Chinese entrepreneurs:

There are two types:

  • Chinese returnees (ABCs = American Born Chinese, or foreign Stanford grads going back home). These are the classic valley entreprenuers. Polished, speak English, went to Stanford, know how to build great PPTs. These folks are very popular with foreign VCs and deals with them are getting bid up quickly.
  • Domestics. There is a much bigger universe of local, highly aggressive busines people with great local knowledge, often 2nd/3rd timers. But they dont speak English, are deeply networked, and intertwined with family. They will often be skeptical of venture capital but one VC we talked to said they are totally focused on them. They see getting a 2-3X return just in terms of professionalizing such companies.

  • i-Mode’s SuperPhone

    Forbes writes:

    Kei-Ichi Enoki, an executive vice president at NTT Docomo, is pushing I-mode beyond its mobile e-mail and Net-surfing roots into territory unexplored by the rest of the world.

    “Mobile phones are going to become personal controllers for anything humans come in contact with. They will control the TV set and other electronic equipment. They will let you into the subway system, act as corporate ID, replace money when shopping, turn on your car and interact with anything else humans deal with,” he says. He is something of a gambler (he’s a pachinko slot machine fan) as well as a visionary who happens to have been right about what the market wanted.

    The latest mobiles, on sale for $200 to $300 in Japan, function as wallets, letting people pay their utility bills or buy movie tickets by putting a handset near a reader. The phones use a Sony circuit card that communicates wirelessly with the reader and deducts the right amount from a stored-value card inside the phone. New I-mode phones also have a bar-code-reading camera that people can point at the bar code on a magazine or poster, taking them straight to a Web site with updated and detailed information on, say, a concert or a discount sale. The handsets can accept memory cards up to 1 gigabyte in size, take pictures and video, play music–and yes, let you talk to someone else.

    The more Enoki can glue his customers to their screens, the less likely they’ll be to switch just to save money. “These handsets will be universal life controllers,” he says. Docomo Rising

    The cell phone, not the PC, delivers the Internet to most Japanese.

    TECH TALK: Creating Options: Blind Spots and Lock-ins

    When good things happen to us, we think it is because of our hard work or because we are smart. When bad things happen, we blame it on luck or destiny. In fact, if we retrace the decision-making tree that resulted in the good or bad things, more often than not we will realise that we created situations that enabled the effects to take place. In other words, the cause is more likely to be the fact that we created (or eliminated) options.

    Let us first look at how we systematically eliminate reduce options. One of the common factors is what Id like to think of as blind spots. Think of them as mind blocks where we let personal biases interfere with decision-making. The second factor is when we lock ourselves in too early to a certain path in order to optimise some other parameter, realising only too late that we didnt really need to do it.

    Just as a blind spot can be dangerous while driving, it can be hazardous in life too. We tend to ignore some things based on emotions or our past experiences but we do so at our own peril. In some ways, the cheese may have moved, but we still go back to the same place in search of the cheese refusing to learn new things. This can be especially true in the world of technology where things change at as fast pace. Consistently challenging our fundamental beliefs is important to prevent us and our business from being disrupted.

    In an organisation, at times, we sometimes become critically dependent on a single resource be it a person, or a machine. We refuse to recognise that that person may leave, or the machine may stop working. This blind spot prevents us from building backups and other adequate safety measures. And then one day, we get hurt. And then, we brood over what could have been and what we should have done.

    An example of lock-in is when we try and save some money by booking lower-fare tickets for business travel. I did it once last year when I was going to Hyderabad. At the last minute, an important meeting could rescheduled and I found myself speaking to a client giving some silly excuses just because I had booked tickets which could not be changed and having spent that money, I was trying to protect the investment I had made. I realised that to try and save a few thousand rupees, I had put myself in a situation where I had limited our own flexibility when I was going to discussion a business with potential which was significantly higher.

    On a larger scale, in India, we have hundreds of thousands of businesses who have unwittingly let themselves be locked in by choosing to pirate Microsoft Windows and Office software. Life is free and fine till the Business Software Alliance, Microsoft or the police come calling (and trust me, they will very soon). At that time, the business owner has little or no choice but to pay up. If, however, businesses can consider the option of open-source software which is now more than good enough, they will have created a much happier scenario for themselves. Few do that assuming that they are either above the law, or have an attitude which says, Well tackle them when they come. By then, it will be too late.

    Tomorrow: How?

    Continue reading