Maker Movement Still Needs to Make Its Market
Between the promise of a new technology and the reality of its achievement lies time. That's the lesson I learned when, in 1999, I launched a business which was, fundamentally, a precursor of YouTube. We hosted one of the first online film competitions. We live-streamed 24-hour events. We had the technology; it was a bear to build and maintain, but we proved it could be done. We did not, could not, make it viable.
For that we needed broadband to be pervasive--and it wasn't, yet. We learned the hard way that timing counts--and you can't control it.
This is frustrating for entrepreneurs because, while you may spot a trend, you can't speed it up or slow it down.
Many companies that now hope to capture the value and promise of the maker movement face that issue today. The promise--that one day you'll be able to download designs and make everything from pills to cars--is credible. It just isn't here yet.
Those 3D printers may be cheaper than ever but they still aren't cheap, and they make little anyone really wants. Downloading the new design for your house and its furniture is possible--but building them is very far from simple. Taking your USB key along to Home Depot isn't yet the way to get that new garden furniture. Between the promise and the hype lies the reality.
For businesses in this space, two things are critical. The first is cash. If the market isn't here yet, you have to wait for it--and that takes money. You need enough cash to prove your business while waiting for the market to take off. But you also have to stay alert to how fast the market is growing and what the key indicators of its progress will be. Progress won't be linear or necessarily even predictable. So what are the meaningful markers that will alert you?
In building businesses, just like managing a stock portfolio, it is virtually impossible to time the market. Too early and you'll burn through cash. Too late and the market will be too crowded. You can make almost anything yourself--except a market.
Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.