Should you show the world your technology before it's fully baked? Google did with Project Glass--but that doesn't mean you should.
Google's prototype for reality-augmented eyeglasses.
The dust has settled (sort of) since Google released its concept video April 4 for Google Glasses. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. The idea is to develop eyewear that essentially replaces the smartphone—so that floating in the periphery of your eyesight at all times are options to do things like get directions, place video calls, or check into Google+.
For tech entrepreneurs, there's another reason to pay attention to what Google is doing with augmented-reality glasses and the hullabalo its video has started. For one thing, it's a look at what happens when even a trusted brand shows off a technology that's ahead of its time. Augmented-reality experts told Wiredthat the project faces huge hurdles before it could ever become a reality. Enthusiasm, skepticism, and ridicule are part of the territory when it comes to marketing a radically different, new technology to the public for the first time.
Why Google Unveiled Early
But Google claims that feedback (both good and bad) is exactly what it wants. That's the function of an early prototype, or concept video, in this case. Gauge user reactions early on and save time in development by heading off concerns and building out features people like so that when the product actually comes to fruition it's better situated to garner rave reviews.
The other big reason to release a prototype to the public is to bolster a company's image, to demonstrate that it is doing cool things behind closed doors. Even if the Google Glasses never come to life, the company still wins because more people than ever now will understand that it has progressed far beyond search.
Winning over the hearts and minds of consumers is a relatively new strategy for Google; for the most part, it's working. According to ABC News, 82 percent of American's have a favorable opinion of Google with a majority expressing a "strongly" favorable one. Incredibly, these numbers beat even Apple, which has been a darling worldwide ever since it shook up the consumer electronics industry more than a decade ago with the introduction of the iPod.
The Problem for Start-ups
But can just any company pull off promoting a technology that may be years out from actually coming to market?
Probably not, unless you're a major brand—like the car manufacturers known for tantalizing consumers with concept vehicles at every car show that, while unlikely to become reality, spark oohs and ahhs from those who don't give a whit about production timetables. It's the idea that inspires, and for big companies that must continue to innovate and impress, that's the goal.
New ventures without an established brand or track record are in a different position entirely.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jesse Farmer sums it up well in a post entitled, "Getting Ahead: A Letter to Myself." He writes about advice he wishes someone would have given him six years ago when he first arrived on the tech start-up scene.
"Here's the big secret: do valuable work and share it. People out here spend so much time talking about who's up, who's down, who's working with whom, who raised money and on what terms, who sold their company and for how much, etc. Twitter has nothing on the speed at which gossip travels in Silicon Valley. It's the work that earns you respect and credibility in the end, though.
"Forget meetups, getting coffee, and 'quick' phone calls. Doing valuable work and sharing it is the best way to build a network -- it becomes your calling card. Idle meetings are the Silicon Valley equivalent of showing up empty-handed to a potluck. Everyone is happier if you bring something unique and delicious. Until you can do that, you're better off practicing your kitchen skills. You want to be able to point to something fantastic and say 'I did that.'"
In short, if you're not Google—or some other entity on the top of the food chain—and you want to amaze the world with your forward-thinking technology, forget the clever concept videos and marketing. Just build it.
CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech start-up community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com. @salubriousdish