Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Entrepreneurs; Cheap, Fast, Simple Tools, and a Bit of Philosophizing

"The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine"
(August 24, 2009)

"In 2001, Jonathan Kaplan and Ariel Braunstein noticed a quirk in the camera market. All the growth was in expensive digital cameras, but the best-selling units by far were still cheap, disposable film models. That year, a whopping 181 million disposables were sold in the US, compared with around 7 million digital cameras. Spotting an opportunity, Kaplan and Braunstein formed a company called Pure Digital Technologies and set out to see if they could mix the rich chocolate of digital imaging with the mass-market peanut butter of throwaway point-and-shoots..."

Turns out, they could. And, they were quite successful at it. If you only looked at number of sales. They were selling the cameras at 'way below cost, and had counted on customers turning the cameras in to get prints and a CD.

The customers didn't. So stores weren't sending the cameras back, the company couldn't refurbish the units for another sale: and customers were presumably content looking at their photos on a little 1.4-inch LCD.


Or, a learning experience.

Kaplan and Braunstein noticed a gap, over video camera sales. They came up with an inferior - no doubt about that - video camera. That
  • Was at a price people
    • Were willing to pay or
    • Could afford
  • Worked, within its narrow design limits
  • Was simple to use
Creating a product like that must have been very contra-intuitive to the makers of those high-end, high-definition, image-stabilized, digital-zoomed video units with features most users never discovered, and a download procedure that was marginally simpler than repairing a V-8, back in the fifties.

Those two weren't the only savvy entrepreneurs on the planet.

"...Cheap, fast, simple tools are suddenly everywhere. We get our breaking news from blogs, we make spotty long-distance calls on Skype, we watch video on small computer screens rather than TVs, and more and more of us are carrying around dinky, low-power netbook computers that are just good enough to meet our surfing and emailing needs. The low end has never been riding higher...." That's not quite a quarter of the way through the article. It runs to five pages on Wired's website: apparently an uncut copy of a traditional hardcopy magazine article.

I'm a bit more interested in the business aspect that's discussed: but there's plenty more, about the sort of "cheap, fast, simple tools" and the 'good enough' outlook they represent.

High-End, All the Features, is Nice: But - - -

Quite a few years ago I read a column by a knowledgeable, concerned aficionado of fine computers. He was incensed. For most of a page he explained how selfish, how wrong it was for people to not go out and buy new technology: just as soon as it was available.

He was reasonable, as I recall, realizing that it an all-new computer design wouldn't be available every month. But at least, he apparently felt, people should be out there, buying the peripherals.

I saw his point.

The information technology industry funds research by selling information technology. When the customers don't buy, money for research doesn't come, and new technologies take longer to develop.

I'd love to be able to follow the columnist's sage advice.

Thing is, although I like high-end technology, I've got champagne tastes on a beer budget. No complaints about that: Years ago I made decisions that I knew would result - barring miracles - in my making less money than I could. (It paid off big time: I married a remarkable woman, four of our kids survived, and one of them is getting married this week.)

Not Everybody is Alike - Aint' it Great?

Maybe almost all the people you know own Bentleys and Lambos, but use an old 2007 Audi A8 for driving around town; if you wonder what people who don't go to Telluride, St Moritz or Solang Valley do when they want to ski; you've heard of Walmarts but never actually seen one; and you like to stay on top of state-of-the-art technology. In that case, buying the latest, best equipment sounds like a good idea.

I have no problem with people who have more money than they need to stay clothed, fed, and sheltered spending the extra on - extras.

But, except for a (very) few people whose job or profession require top-of-the-line performance - or a swanky label on the box to impress clients - most of us get by pretty well with equipment that's pretty good.

Not the best, not the latest: but something that gets the job done.

Me? I'm working with a computer that's a decade old: I was able to afford a really good machine then, and got it. Good thing, too, since it'll be a while before I can afford any sort of replacement. No complaints: but I'm sure glad that others have what it takes to buy the latest and best. Somebody's gotta foot the bill for research and development, you know.

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