The Future Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed

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An entrepreneur shared this quote with me a few weeks ago.

The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.
William Gibson, quoted in The Economist, December 4, 2003

I remembered it this morning when I drove past a Google self-driving car and then again a few minutes later when a Tesla whipped past me and a third time during the same commute when I dictated an email to my mobile phone. Sometimes living in the Bay Area does feel like the living in future.

But to Gibson’s point, not every region can claim to have self-driving cars on its highways or electric car ownership or smart phone penetration rates as high as the Bay Area. Why not?

I think there are four main barriers to distributing the future better. These are the same four challenges startups must solve to succeed. And these needs actually determine the structure of most startups.

Awareness: many people simply don’t know about Square or Expensify or Google Now. They haven’t seen or used the products because they’re too busy or otherwise engaged. Marketing and branding are the tools to drive education and awareness.

Cost: new technologies cost money. With time and advances in manufacturing or cloud computing, newer technologies become more efficient to produce and deliver, but money will always be a barrier to adoption.

Complexity: my father-in-law is a brilliant surgeon and audiophile. We’ve just set up Sonos in his living room with Pandora and Rdio and a bunch of other music services. This weekend, I walked him through the set-up step by step over the phone and hearing him narrate the experience I realized how challenging technology can be for those who aren’t digital natives.

Even though those three products, Sonos, Pandora and Rdio are known for their simplicity, for many user they still aren’t simple enough. Complex product design limits adoption. That’s what Apple and Google do so well and why they attract hundreds of millions of users.

Perceived value: for a long time the benefits of newer technologies aren’t appreciated even after a customer/user might be aware. Either the cost/benefit analysis isn’t strong enough or the need isn’t yet apparent to the end user.

These four limits align well with the four major parts of a startup:

Awareness is Marketing.
Cost is Engineering.
Complexity is Product Design.
Perceived Value is Sales.

A startup succeeds when it distributes the future better - and that means aiding awareness, reducing cost, eliminating complexity and selling the value of their product.

20 March 2013

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