The best products and services address an unmet need. Startups which identify such opportunities in large markets, grow quickly to become successful companies. When the solution to the unmet need requires a yet to be developed technology, the risk associated with the venture increases dramatically. Just to clarify, a yet to be developed technology is not an integration of several available technologies but something which has a probability of not succeeding.
An example for such a situation is identifying the unmet need for a zero emission low cost fuel source. If we have identified an algae which can efficiently produce emission free bio diesel, than we have a technology path to addressing the need. But if for commercial viability we need to boost the algae production level a hundred fold and experience has shown such development requires ten years, then we don’t have a technology path to walk by.
It is at this juncture that ventures make a dramatic, and usually unconscious decision among several choices. The first is recognizing the prohibitive risk, they seek a different opportunity. The second option is to explore the solution space for alternatives to the yet to be developed technology. The third is to discount the risk and develop the technology.
Ten fold improvement
For ventures pursuing the third option the prevailing benchmark is a 10X improvement in performance over state of art. But this approach actually creates the dreaded technology push. The reason for 10X may be attributed to the semiconductor industry and Moore’s law, which originally charted a two fold reduction in transistor size every two years. Hence if the development of a technology requires 5 years to become a product, than unless it is targeted at 10X, it will be obsolete by the the time it reaches the market.
So the transition from market need to technology push occurs when development times are long and the focus is on future performance. Aggressive targets are chosen to resolve the marketing risks five years into the future. The combination of all these create a spiral feeding itself of aggressive targets, development delays, market risk and even more aggressive targets. In software, you can release a semi featured, partially bugged product, and call it a beta. In other fields you use many terms, but in all cases the revenues remain in a distant horizon.
Its all about the timeline
The only solution to the technology push spiral is to acknowledge the risk associated with time. The project focus, should always be on shortening the schedule. Often the best way to start is by realizing short schedules enable less aggressive product specifications.