The Disruptive Technologists recently held a panel to discuss the state of tech in NYC. David Carlos, CTO of MyHomePayge, moderated the event and panelists included Ricky Bacon, VP of Engineering at Noise; Eric Weissman, Co-Founder and CIO of Internet Media Labs; and Matthew Quint, Director of Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership.
The event began with a discussion of what “Disruptive” meant to each panelist. Carlos talked about looking for an industry whose technology lagged behind to create a product that filled that niche. Weissman agreed, “My idea of disruptive technology is to find a need and fill it.” “The network effect is where disruption takes place.” Quint added, referring to the need for some technologies to reach a large number of people before they can truly have a disruptive effect.
The automobile was brought up as an example of such a technology. Carlos reflected that it only became disruptive thanks to Henry Ford. It was a boutique item that could have had little impact on the world: with mass production, it changed everything.
An audience member asked if there was a difference between disruption and integration, as many of the changes that would be called disruptive require the integration of multiple elements. Weissmen responded, “From my perspective, it really means ‘game changing.’ That you are disrupting the way people do things right now. How do we change things forever.” “Take a business model that existed and so radically change it that that business model doesn’t exist anymore,” Quint agreed. He told an amusing story of his grandparents being asked what the most disruptive technology was during their lifetime, to which they responded, “the refrigerator.”
The discussion then moved to how to be disruptive, with the panelists split between being the first working on an innovative idea vs. letting your competitors do the initial trial and error before you swoop in with the solution. Quint used Steve Jobs as a prime example of the second category. The graphical user interface was originally developed by Xerox and Jobs paired it with personal computing to create a disruptive technology that Xerox hadn’t even considered.
You might not want to be the first to try to solve a problem, but you do want to be the first to introduce the solution to the market. “When somebody comes up with a novel approach to doing something, the first person to market will take 50% market share, second player gets 25% market share, everyone else gets the rest of the 25%,” Carlos said.
An audience member asked if the formula of creating a habit in consumers, making it proprietary and branding it would cause the money to flow, to which Quint responded, “For everyone who is a serial entrepreneur, they have three failures for every success.”
“You can be assured if you make something with traction, competition will come out of the woodwork,” Weissman continued. He explained that his philosophy for staying on top of the competition is to begin developing ideas that the technology does not yet support. At the point that the technology can support it, he wants to have a head start in the development process. He also mentioned that an interesting thing for entrepreneurs to consider is when to get out of the business: when you start to succeed larger companies will begin to come after you. He added that one tactic for dealing with this is to partner with a larger company that is too slow to innovate itself, but has the resources to help you protect your product.
The conversation then turned to IP protection. Bacon said that he doesn’t sign NDAs because, “Ideas are cheap. Execution matters.” An audience member asked about patent protection and Weissman said that he had never filed a patent, but that, “You need to be mindful of researching the patents that already exist.” He explained that entrepreneurs typically have larger concerns than worrying about patent protection, but that you didn’t want to sink development time into a product that could be challenged by a patent.
An audience member brought up the dilemma of trying to get funding for a product that didn’t yet have a proven business model because it was so innovative. Weissman’s advice: “Surround yourself with people who are interested in what you do and they can become partners and investors.” “Investors don’t invest in ideas, they invest in people,” Carlos added. “When you meet someone with a passion that is infectious and you believe in them, you may invest in them. You’ll never have someone who looks at great numbers but doesn’t believe in the person, who decides to invest.”