Manish Kothari, Ph.D, is the President of SRI International.
Say you’re a professor or researcher at a university who thinks your work could solve an important unmet need. You’ve worked on it for decades. You’re ready, the technology is ready and you’re sure the world is ready too.
In the first of this multipart series, I proposed a simplified approach to thinking through the transition of inventing a concept and going to market, and I focused not only on performance and reliability but also on convenience and cost.
Placing you back in the role of the professor or researcher who’s ready to release their work, along the way, you have (hopefully) managed to define the customer need via market analysis. If your university has a brilliant program, you’ve had a structured needs identification process. You’ve learned what the customers want. You may have had an MBA join your team, and together you came up with a hypothesis of market requirements. You’ve stretched yourself beyond your daily research. You’ve even incorporated usability, feasibility (convenience) and done an appropriate cost assessment.
You’re a remarkable example in the industry. You’ve cleared a path to development. But there’s still one remaining step after all that discovery — ensuring that the technology requirements match the market requirements. The problem you may inevitably run into is that your technology falls short of meeting your market needs. It won’t be fast enough. It won’t be cheap enough. It won’t be powerful enough. Let’s call this “the gap.”
The gap is further compounded if the technology is hardware-centric; you don’t have the benefit of being able to upgrade efficiently and scalably like software often can post-launch. The problem compounds if there are regulatory benchmarks to be met.
You can choose to ignore it, sell the dream, cross your fingers and hope you solve it by the time the product is due — what I call technology hubris — but that’s a slippery slope when deep tech is concerned. The effort and time required are often out of sync with the timing that investors want to see for the product to hit the market.
The deep tech startup world is filled with companies that failed for this reason. In fact, it’s one of the primary failure modes I’ve seen. I highly recommend you don’t do this. Or at least only do this if you’re confident that you can solve these issues within six to 12 months.
Alternatively, you could have the hubris to believe that your solution is so unique and critical that it’ll bend market requirements towards it, i.e., make the gap disappear or at least minimize the impact of the gap.
Technical teams often overestimate the possibility of solving the technology hubris hypothesis, while business teams often overestimate the possibility of solving the business hubris hypothesis. In each of these cases, there is actually an easier, more viable approach — one that we can co-opt from consumer products.
Moments Of Delight
You bridge the gap. You do so by providing moments of delight targeted at the end user. Moments of delight are interactions that are so compelling to consumers that they’re willing to overlook the fact that your product doesn’t accommodate their every need. Moments of delight are what Steve Jobs anchored his success on.
Users didn’t need an “I’m feeling lucky” button to return just one Google Search in the early days. But when it worked, it elicited a moment of delight that those of us who were around in the late ‘90s can still recall and appreciate. Even today, smartphones don’t meet everything consumers would like them to do, but they’re still a successful product class because they bring delight in numerous ways to users.
It’s crucial to understand that moments of delight will differ from product to product. A moment of delight could be an app delivering truly useful information to a user without being prompted, a machine learning algorithm producing an expected answer or a shortcut that makes it easier to get from one dashboard to another. The key to unlocking your product’s moment of delight lies in figuring out not what your end users need, but what your end users appreciate.
The time to start thinking about moments of delight is early on in the market research phase. Similar to how I outlined in my last article that use-inspired research should consider performance, reliability, convenience and cost at the start of a project, you should explore potential moments of delight shortly after defining the market need. Next, rank and test these moments in terms of their potential impact on consumers. It’s important to think about which moments of delight you can sustain and use to keep consumers engaged.
Note that many products have multiple stakeholders including the buyer, the user, the approver, etc. From a moment of delight perspective, though, only one sub-customer matters: the end-user. Don’t spend time on the others, they’ll follow along if the end user cares.
The concept of a moment of delight isn’t a new one. Consumer products have been doing this for centuries. It, however, is something that’s often looked upon with disdain in deep technology. Simply, don’t do that. If you want to be a remarkable example in the industry showing off your technology, make sure to think about moments of delight early and often.