There are case studies in the history of entrepreneurship that go over a product introduction, before its time.
For example, if you were asked as a trivia question when was the first auto-focus camera was invented, what would you guess?
If you are a mere consumer or even an SLR camera enthusiast, you may guess the mid-1980s, and you would be “right.”
That is when the first AF SLR camera, the Minolta 7000 was released to the public.
However, if you investigate some more, you will see that actually another company, Leica, invented this technology years before. Yet Leica did not pursue the commercialization of this technology, and sold its knowledge and patents to Minolta.
Another example would be the iPad.
If you were asked as a trivia question when was the first tablet computer invented, what would you guess?
You may guess the 2010 Apple introduction of their iPad. This product had many doubters as it was unlike other computers. Yet, almost every household ended up have an iPad or more than one, this thing no one would wanted.
However, if you investigate some more, you will see that actually another company, GO, invented this technology years before. Yet GO invented it in 1987 and it was too early. If you have not read the book Start Up about the history of GO, you should.
Its founder Jerry Kaplan himself realized the essence of the lesson in this blog post. He said that the “timing was wrong, not the device.“
Meet the market where it is
Netflix is one of those companies that just made it, as it also began when the market was NOT where it should be for it to thrive. If you want to stream movies, you need good bandwidth. In 1997 the average network speed was slow. So if your business depends on having 25Mbps and the average person has a telephone-based modem with 14.4Kbps… you are going to have an issue.
The market is simply not ready for your big idea. It is not that your idea does not have merit, or could be worth a market cap of $192B. All that is true. Yet, if the market is not ready, in this case the very infrastructure the business needs to survive – it will not work.
As founders and entrepreneurs we wish the market would be ready for us. We hope the market will “get it”, and want to move in our speed to adopt what is obviously something better than the status quo.
But that is a faulty assumption that tanks many great operators. We want the acknowledgment for our brilliant idea, for our whiz-bang invention that we fail to see if the market is ready for it.
Now, it is not trivial to know if the market is ready or not without some research. However, even with research, you may not be well timed and the market will not be ready.
How can that be?
Say that you see a world that uses username and passwords for their security. You clearly see and experience yourself as an end user, that passwords suck. Its a technical term, look it up 😉
They suck because… no one wants to remember long strings made of letters and numbers, and keep making news ones for every website. That is what the market told us to do, but we, mere users, keep using the same password everywhere. Why? Because no one every asked us if we want passwords. The came with the internet, and are part of the furniture.
Moreover, any security professional would tell you that passwords are not good for security, as users are not good at setting strong passwords and then remember them a month later. Additionally, due to phishing attacks the users can be tricked to give away their passwords.
Then, if you speak to the customer service leader of a company, they would share that 30% of the calls they get to the call center are about… account lockout as a result of? You guessed it – users forgetting their passwords.
So far we have users hating passwords, the security folks, the operators of the business and you can add to that list the product managers, the user experience team, the CFO and on and on.
Question: If you come up with a way to do away with passwords, that is easier and simpler to user, and will cost less, and be more secure – the market will love it and be all over it, right?
No, not really.
In one of the past article we review the first penguin syndrome. You have to study that before you even begin your company. Even the best inventions, have buyers as “who is using it now? who is using it BEFORE ME?”
It creates a Catch 22 as someone needs to be first.
Let’s put that aside, and say that you were willing to give the first ten early adopter a sweetheart deal, or even a free license just to be able to say in the next meeting that someone is using it BEFORE you.
You can’t keep giving your product away to get adoption and scale.
So now what?
You realize that the first sales objection of “who is using it?” was just a distraction, and in fact, you are not getting the 11th company to adopt even when you cited your first ten users. That was never the real issue.
Doing things that are not what “everyone” is doing, are hard for executives who are worried about getting fired if a project goes sideways. So the question about who else is using it, is not solving their OWN worries, about adoption in their own environment.
You may pitch an executive who is very simpatico and also want to get rid of passwords as much as you do. During the sales pitch you and the executive mind-meld and really agree on the benefits to his company should the project begin.
Yet, buyers are liars in that sense. No matter what the buyer says during the meeting, they still have to get their team, and their management team to support this new idea.
Easy peasy, right? EVERYONE hates passwords and can see the benefits of ditching them – so let’s go!
Not so fast.
The SAME fears the executives have in most your meetings, are now emerging from anyone in the company who was not in the GREAT meeting you had with your champion buyer and sponsor. So it is their job, to get the internal buy in. They may choose to do it and spend political capital on it, or not. They may ask you to do your pitch again, this time with a bigger group. While this in general is a positive move in the right direction, it is only done so the champion can gauge how much push back and anti-bodies are in the company, for this new idea.
But wait, we said that everyone hates passwords and that if you just invent the new tech, they would want to adopt it. What changed?
Yet, your new invention is not coming across for some executives who see it as a… threat. For example, if your call center manager has 100 employees and already interviewing the next 20, and they see that without passwords they fiefdom will be cut in half – they may not be so enthused about it.
Yep, even if it is “bad” for the company, and will cost it money and needless customer attrition.
Yet the real issue more innovators deal with is that the market is simply not ready for their idea, and it comes across a bridge too far – as much as everyone can see the benefits.
So what is a founder to do?
Meet the market where it is. Even if it means to turn a blind eye to how your invention will be used at first.
You see, to have product market fit, you have to have the timing right. So you could short-circuit the timing sometimes, by using your invention in different way until the market will be ready.
In this example, you could forgo your ambitions to rid the company of them pesky passwords – and focus on the financial benefits of switching them from using SMS OTP for 2FA.
You mean, KEEP using passwords and only replace the second factor?
Is it not completely and utterly a contradiction, as you set out to abolish passwords and now you are going to keep them, longer?
By doing so you are achieving MANY of your short term objectives, to get to your long term objectives. Think of it as a pawn sacrifice move.
It is not fun to do, and many feel disgust compromising their beautiful solutions for this low-grade use case and abomination.
Yet, what you gain is far greater. You have CUSTOMERS who will sing your praises and allow you to keep the company going. You will learn more about your customer and their internal politics, so you can plan your long term move better. You will be able to point to them, something that they may overlook – something like users who still forget their passwords and wish the website would go passwordless. You would be able to conduct A/B test between cohorts of password users, and passwordless users while being paid for the use case you did not want to sell.
You will meet the market, where it is and not where you wish they were.
First sell them what they want, then sell them what they need.