Camels, Tigers & Unicorns

The discussion panel
A lively discussion chaired by David Gill at St John’s Innovation Centre, Cambridge, UK
I was delighted to be asked to appear on the discussion panel for a seminar at St John’s Innovation Centre entitled “Rethinking science and technology enabled innovation: The Chasm II Challenge”.

The session started with Uday Phadke outlining some of the major elements of the book which he co-authored with Shailendra Vyakarnam – ‘Camels, Tigers & Unicorns: Rethinking Science and Technology-Enabled Innovation’ and went on to a fascinating audience Q&A and panel discussion. In addition to the authors of the book, the panel included Lianne Taylor from the Lord Ashcroft International Business School, Anglia Ruskin University and serial entrepreneur Bryan Amesbury. I was there as someone who has worked in a variety of roles creating, selling and marketing products and services.

Let’s start by explaining the three animals, and then move on to discuss the chasms.

Camels, Tigers & Unicorns

These terms describe three different types of company, particularly in the area of technical innovation.

The camel has all the resources it needs as it travels from one oasis to the next. It’s well adapted for survival in its environment. A traditional engineering company might well be a camel.

A tiger is agile, and it needs to be. It lives in a hostile environment and has to live on its wits, often not knowing where the next meal is coming from. Many high-tech start-ups are tigers.

Unicorns are mythical creatures. Some people believe they really exist, and place billion dollar valuations on start-ups  where in reality there is little more than smoke and mirrors. And, just sometimes, it works.

Chasms and vectors

It was back in 1991 that Geoffrey Moore wrote ‘Crossing the Chasm’. This talked about the difficulties in crossing the chasm in the product lifecycle between the “early adopters” and the “early majority”. Uday and Shai have been looking at real data-sets of metrics for 300 businesses and concluded that there are actually three chasms:

  • Chasm 1 – proving that you actually have a viable product
  • Chasm 2 – generating early sales revenues
  • Chasm 3 – scaling up the business

When the data are normalised and analysed there is a remarkable consistency across companies and sectors.

The authors looked for the factors that affect the progress of a company and identified the following “vectors”:

The discussion panel: Lianne Taylor, Bryan Amesbury, Clifford Dive, Shailendra Vyakarnam, Uday Phadke
The panel: Lianne Taylor, Bryan Amesbury, Clifford Dive, Shailendra Vyakarnam, Uday Phadke
  • Understanding the market space
  • Proposition framing and competition
  • Customer definition
  • Distribution, marketing strategy
  • Commercialisation strategy
  • Business models
  • IP management
  • Manufacturing and assembly
  • Product service definition and synthesis
  • Technology development and deployment
  • Talent, leadership and culture
  • Funding and Investment

The importance of each vector varies depending on the stage the company has reached in its evolution.

The challenge of the second chasm

It seems the second chasm presents a perfect storm. This crossing calls for the greatest number of vectors to be exercised, and it also happens to be the phase when funding and other support mechanisms are most difficult to find or least effective. The background of the panel members offered a variety of perspectives on these challenges, and the audience made a great contribution to a lively discussion.

Solving the problem

Unsurprisingly, good though the debate was, we didn’t come up with an instant solution, but the book makes a number of proposals, as well as suggesting tools which may be used to assist in the journey.

One essential factor is finding the right people to work with the management team to devise a strategy, and to assist in the delivery of that strategy.

Looking for help?

With management team experience on the leading edge of electronic and software innovation in organisations ranging from multinational corporations (including Qualcomm, Cadence and Philips) to technology start-ups and university spin-outs I am ideally placed to help companies as they tackle the first and second chasms. I have a technical understanding combined with real-life experience leading customer-oriented teams in project delivery, product management and business development.

If you’d like to talk about how I could help you to face your challenges don’t hesitate to get in touch.

strategy | product | technology | business

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it

Image credit: David,

On Thursday I went to a pub for lunch with an ex-colleague. The next day I went to a different pub for lunch with a different ex-colleague…

…and the experiences got me thinking about account management.


We walked into the pub, ordered food and took our drinks to a little niche at the side of the bar area. So far, so good. Then, just as we were settling ourselves, a member of staff approached purposefully.

Member of staff (with a charmless and assertive manner bordering on aggressive): “You can’t sit there, this area’s closed”
My inner self (feeling immediately adversarial): “Where the hell else do you expect us to sit. The bar area’s pretty crowded”
What I actually said (in a very English way): “Sorry”
Member of staff: “…and you should have given a table number when you ordered”
My inner self (increasingly aroused, in a bad way): “Perhaps you should be telling that to the person who took our order”
What I actually said (in a very English way): “Sorry”

So, feeling rather passive aggressive by now, we picked up our drinks and stomped across the bar on a mission to find somewhere we were allowed to sit.

The food was fine, and the  conversation enjoyable. But if Google had asked me for a review of that place at that moment, it would not have been good.


We entered the pub before noon. The lady behind the bar appeared a little concerned as she told us that food wasn’t available until 12:00. We were happy to talk over a drink and look at the menu until then.

Member of staff (indicating one of the tables): “That table is reserved, but feel free to sit anywhere else”

After a few minutes the member of staff came over to where we were sat.

Member of staff: “It’s really not my day! I got confused – this table is actually reserved for 12:30”
What I said (reflecting the feelings of my inner self and very grateful for the lack of inner conflict): “That’s fine. We’ll move before the food arrives”

…and indeed, we happily took our drinks to another table where we enjoyed our food and conversation without any passive aggressive feelings. A customer-focused approach meant that we were more than happy to be cooperative.

Lesson of the day – it’s the little things that matter

There was no big problem with Thursday’s pub – but we came away unimpressed, not because of the deliverables themselves, but the manner in which they were delivered.

The same principle is true when working on customer projects in my chosen career of product development. Things will go wrong – timescales slip, software bugs happen, there are resourcing issues. Deal with it properly and the customer relationship will be stronger than if the problems had never occurred. Handle it badly, and it could be you’ll never work for that customer again.

That’s why it often makes sense to have someone in the role of account manager, away from the pressures of direct project responsibilities. When problems arise, this semi-detached person can take the broad view on the solution, where the project manager might feel compelled to apply the letter of the agreement. There’s scope to play the “good guy/bad guy” personas and work not only to deliver today’s project but tomorrow’s relationship.

The person in the account manager role should stay in touch with the project, attending both internal and customer progress meetings, but must be careful not to drift into the project manager’s territory. This is especially true for customer meetings – the tone and content of customer messaging should be agreed between the project team and the account manager beforehand.

Equally, the project manager should not be making big promises to the customer without consulting the account manager.

I have seen this model work very well, nurturing long-term trusting and profitable client relationships. I have also worked with companies that don’t see the point – the technical team manages the whole relationship while the project is operating. These companies have had notably low levels of repeat business.