Technology comes LAST

By Shlomo  Maital     


  My wife and I are in Brazil; yesterday I gave a seminar at Univ. of Sao Paulo, titled “Technology Comes Last, Not First”.  This was hutzpah, impudence, because it was a seminar for Management of Technology.  When you see a surgeon with a medical problem, they often recommend surgery. Naturally. When you study Management of Technology, they teach you – well, how to manage technology. 

   But the audience got the message and understood.  And it is so simple.

   Great startups begin by identifying an unmet need.  This is done not by asking people what they need, but by keen close detailed zoom-in observation and listening – not a skill engineers tend to have.  Only after a clear unmet need is identified, should technology be pulled in,  and only technology that can simply, quickly and appropriately be applied to meet the need, as part of a sustainable business. 

   I’ve seen countless startups driven by genius engineers, who create magical technology (recall Arthur Clarke, “truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”),   and launch a startup, and – their technology meets needs that do not exist at all.

    How do you find a true need?  Maybe, you YOURself need it.  And if so, others do too.  Spanx started when Susan Blakely needed something to tuck in her bottom. The technology?  Spandex.  She made a batch and knocked on doors until it began to sell. She’s now a billionaire.  Lady Gaga records new songs after exhausting performances, in her bus.  Technology? Her engineers insist, you cannot record high-quality sound in a bus.  Lady Gaga?  DO IT!!  Because she needs the inspiration and immediacy of her audience.  Sound studios are sterile.   

    The paradox is:  Technology-driven startups cannot be led by, driven by, and directed by, technology, even though they are generally led by engineers.  The principle is:  Start with Why!  Why make this?  Who needs it? Why do they need it?  Only if you have very strong clear answers, can you proceed to the technology that will satisfy it.  This is so simple. Yet violated by many businesses and entrepreneurs,  for big and small companies.