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Product development Archives - Mike Seiler, MSEE
Adventures in Engineering Trade-Offs

Product development

Engineering is Hard, Marketing is Harder

With 20/20 hindsight, I conclude that marketing is harder than engineering.

For example, when I look back at why the success of a product I designed stalled after I sold over 10,000 of them, I can see that this was due to a lack of marketing savvy.

I  was fortunate that I was able to ride on the coat tails of an excellent speaker during much of the run up to selling 10,000 units. The speaker would promote my product because he was the inventor of the underlying concept, and he happened to like my implementation.  But once my spokesperson retired, I discovered that I did not know beans about marketing.

It took me a few years to realize I need to come up the marketing learning curve.  Now, a over a decade later, I find that marketing is still more difficult than engineering.  There is no quick and easy formula for fanning the flames of desire.

It comes down to this – It’s easier to design a tangible gadget using engineering design principles than it is to figure out how to elicit enough desire in people to have them part with cold hard cash  for said gadget.

I’m not the only one who seems to be having the problem. It is the most common source of startup failure.  Specifically, a product is built, and get’s some traction with early adopters.  But then, a  startup flounders when attempting to broaden it’s market into a larger population of consumers.

A friend of mine did a study of 220 silicon valley startup failures.  87% of the time, the startup money was misspent.  Specifically, to much time and money was budgeted for product development, and not enough for marketing.

Ratios vary by industry, but I’ve heard that a successful startup ends up spending twice as much on marketing than on development.  If this is true then it points out in dollars and cents terms how difficult marketing is.

 

The Profound Implication of Moore’s Law

To be sure, Ray Kurzweil has built an entire career riding the leading edge of Moore’s Law. He does a better job than I ever could of expounding on it’s significance.

However, let me add my two cent’s worth.

It has been hypothesized that there is a direct relationship between our civilization energy consumption, and continued population growth. In short, energy, not food, fuels our population growth. (Aside: low cost energy makes it easier to produce food cheaply.) http://www.resilience.org/stories/2009-04-20/peak-people-interrelationship-between-population-growth-and-energy-resources

There is concern that once we pass “peak energy” that we will see massive depopulation as our energy supply dwindles. (Now that can’t be good.)

I’d like to propose that Moore’s law may come to our rescue… at least for a while. You see, not only do computers become more efficient as a byproduct of their increasing capacity – but this increased efficiency spreads into the rest of our environment. As a minor example, cars are more efficient in part because of the computers they now contain. However the current best example is how smart phones make all of us more efficient in countless ways.

However, the tend of every faster, smaller, cheaper computers making us more efficient is just getting started. The next few years will see an explosion of the “Internet of things.” (IoT) The IoT means that or things will gradually become more and more interconneted and intelligent.

What’s the driving force for this trend? Efficiency and/or convenience – of course! As our environment becomes more responsive to us (because it is intelligent) it will further make us efficient, which will save time, money, and most importantly, energy.

This increased energy efficiency will delay the day that “peak energy” exerts a downward pressure on economies and population. Thus, Moore’s Law may delay the day this civilization runs out of energy and with that, the ability to feed ourselves.

P.S. Yes, I can hear the naysayers asking, “What about super intelligent machines taking over everything?” Let me just add that to my list of subjects for a further blog post.

This is the Golden Age of Electronic Tinkering

Moore’s Law is an observation that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years. Or put another way, it will cost half as much for a given number of transistors every two years.

In the 3+ decades that I’ve observed the electronics industry in, I continue to be amazed at how Moore’s Law has profound implications for… just about everything. Now, this statement deserves it’s own blog post, but let me stay on point and give an example of how it has made electronic tinkering so much fun.

Case in point

Ordered upconverter from ebay last April because it was so cheap, I wanted to have one handy because I might need one some day.

Also, got LiPo battery, holder and charger from Sparkfun because it might be useful some day.

At the Solid State Depot, I saw Santa hat with RGB LED lights.

I had just happened to have just programmed a hypnotic RGB mood light on a PCB.  Now could I make this all portable?

Bada bing, bada boom – I hooked up the charger and upconverter to the LiPo battery so I could power the RGB LED mood light PCB.  Almost instantly, I had a very useful rechargeable project I could slide into the brim of a Santa hat.

As a final thought, I should mention that Moore’s law is gradually taking over areas beyond computers.  Audio, photography and telephony have already succumbed.  Transportation, and various areas of expertise appear to be next.