Friday, June 24

Think Small

There’s lot of money to be made by solving the big problems that consumers face, right?

So how do we find that next breakthrough product (like the motor car, microwave or dishwasher) which revolutionises an existing market and sells in its millions, for hundreds of pounds a time?

In the western world, we’re still very passionate about consuming products.  Our default world-view is that any problem in our out-of-work lives can be overcome by spending money on products, whether our panacea of choice is an wireless printer, a 7MP camera to replace our 6MP one, an iPad, or just a huge tub of ice cream to cry into!   

But it’s surprising just how much revenue and kudos can be gained from an idea which seems “small”.  Just think how popular the following have been:
1.        Packs of diced vegetables, which save the busy parent those all important 30 seconds in the kitchen
2.       The mobile phone “sock”, which solves the frightful problem of traditional phone cases looking too corporate
3.       The plastic bag dispenser, which saves you having to think where to keep bags you wish to reuse, or worrying about how on earth you’ll extricate them from that place

As the east becomes more westernised, so the demand for these kinds of products will grow.  China’s emissions and energy consumption have already overtaken those of the US, and their economy is projected to overtake soon, so the future seems bright for small products solving small problems.

Meanwhile in lesser-developed economies like sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, creative people are finding fascinating ways to solve problems which we’d consider more basic.   The financial model is similar (low prices, but large volumes) even if the products are more serious in nature:
1.        M-PESA, which allows mobile-to-mobile money transfer in East Africa.
2.       Kiva, the US solution for worldwide micro-loans
3.       The concept of a $300 house, with designs at
4.      The XO-1 $100 laptop

So there’s a lot to be said for innovations which solve a mass problem, even if unit profits are very low.  The way to break into these “small” markets is by truly understanding the point problems which affect the various segments of the world population.  Anyone’s life can be made easier, and almost anyone will be willing to pay something for that – however little.  Watch the world closely, and expect to spot more of these small problems in return …

… why did the hot tap initially run cold?
… why did I have to wait for the kettle to boil?
… why did my shirt button pop-off after only a couple of wears?
… why can’t I rent a micro-scooter in London, only a bike?
… why didn’t the taxi firm just know when my meeting finished, and which train I was planning to catch?

Whose going to fix all that?   Any answers much appreciated.

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