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”:
- 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.