As odd as it might sound to most of us, Technology is not interesting, product is quite boring and the only thing that we should be focus on is the SOLUTION. If we want to sell something, then the only sellable item we can generate is a solution.
Demand is generated through shortage (so obvious: only if we do not have it, we will try to get it). In many cases, shortage is caused due to a PROBLEM. A SOLUTION mitigates the problem and thus bridges the shortage and addresses the demand. The problem size will determine the size of the prize awaiting the solution innovators.
When starting a new business, or a new product line at a company, the main questions that must be asked are, what is the problem we want to address, how big is it, and how much would the world be willing to pay us if we produce a solution (we also need to ask additional questions, such as who else is trying etc., but only after we answer the basic ones). Sometimes, potential customers will indicate a problem that if solved, they will be willing to pay for the solution. In other cases, it might be that you know the market well enough to identify a problem that customers are not aware of and develop a solution for it (prior to the announcement of the iPhone1, potential customers didn’t know they needed it – Apple knew). In this case, you have a much heavier burden to lift; convince yourself that the latent problem/demand you are about to wake up, is big enough to commercially justify the effort you are about to make. In many cases, the commercial justification of the solution should be based on a comparison between the solution cost and the long-term problem cost.
The Problem: The water is down there, and the elephant's mouth is up here... The solution: A trunk
So, assuming we proved that there is a big enough problem, that requires a solution, and that the market will pay for this solution, then product and technology considerations may be dealt with soon. But, first, the SOLUTION must be thoroughly imagined and documented. A solution might be one of, or a combination of software, hardware, materials, workflow and the way things are done. We need to know if we can we provide the entire solution, or do we need to collaborate with partners, to secure a whole solution? Who will be the customer/s for the solution? Supply and value chain?
Now that we have a clear vision of the solution, its PRODUCT time! What will be the product/s that will make the solution? What will be the eco-system around this product? How will the product be positioned to support the solution? Is it feasible?
So, we have a product in mind – now what is the TECHNOLOGY we must have in order to develop this product? Do we have it? Does someone else have it (and related IP)? Can we develop it? How long will it take and how much will it cost? Then, at this time frame and cost – is it still a feasible and viable solution?
To illustrate the problem to solution to product to technology flow, let’s have a look at the thriving, and in advanced stages of digital transformation, orthodontic clear aligners’ segment. Prior to digitally designed, and additive manufactured clear aligners, there were analogue handmade braces. Braces do their job, but while for kids a smile with braces is a standard look, adults preferred to have a twisted smile, rather than have braces on their teeth. So, here is the problem: many adults that need their teeth aligned but will not use braces. There is a lot of money in almost any aesthetic procedure for adults. The solution would be let us provide aligners that do not have the negative aesthetic effect of braces and still work – clear aligners! The clear aligners’ solution is integrated of quite a few products (some by different vendors) that together produce the expected outcome: a dental scanner (intra-oral if possible), a design software to create the different aligners, a 3D printer to print the “stone models”, bio-compatible clear materials and thermoforming technology to create the final aligners from the clear material, using the “stone models” as molds.
Another dental example: crowns and bridges. Those were created solely by highly skilled dental technicians, using a traditional handwork process. Expensive (though less rewarding for the technicians than it used to be), consuming and skilled labor intensive, less dental technicians are available in the recent decades. The solution: scanning, a dedicated CAD software, milling machines (for the clinic, or lab) and dedicated ceramic materials to mill the dentures
from. It is a working solution, gradually replacing the manual analogue process. Recently additive manufacturing of ceramics became possible. Let us print the crowns and bridges, rather than mill them, then. However, is there enough of a problem left to solve once the milling process was introduced? Apparently, nothing significant enough to justify replacing milling with additive manufacturing. So, if there is no problem, a new solution is redundant. We do have a great technology (ceramics additive manufacturing) – let us look for a real problem.
The Problem: The food is up there... The solution: A long neck
In most cases, we almost always are tempted to start with a technology! We have a great technology, now let us go out and find a real good problem for it. Once we found this good problem, we can start over again, but now, in the right direction. If we do not, then we end up with an exciting technology, a great product, but no sales.