A common myth in business is that the market rewards innovation. Strictly, speaking this is true. But here's the rub: the market almost always looks at new inventions as something curious and perhaps frivolous. In short, the market often views a new idea as a toy.
The inventors of automobiles, airplanes, telephones, and even the Internet all went through the process of convincing people that their ideas were not destined to be want-to-haves, but were instead have-to-haves. Each of these products was, in the early days, perceived to be a cool thing that a few people would enjoy--they were not viewed as things that 'normal' people would need in their daily lives. Of course, we feel very different about these innovations now. I am not yet convinced that video games have transitioned from being a toy to being a necessity--but my teenagers clearly think of them as such.
If you approach an idea with the assumption that everyone will want it, you are likely to have trouble getting your business off the ground. Finding a small niche of people who become enthusiasts for your product is much safer and easier path to take, at least at the outset. Remember that customer acquisition costs are much cheaper with a well-defined niche, and marketing costs can determine the success of failure of a company much more than nearly any other factor.
So even if you believe your innovation is bound to change the world for the better, keep it to yourself. Position it instead as a fun toy, and wait for its fans to decide they simply cannot live without it.
Last updated: Jun 10, 2009
Veteran entrepreneur NOLAN BUSHNELL is the founder Atari, Chuck E. Cheese, Etak, ByVideo, Axlon, and uWink. Among his accomplishments, Bushnell invented Pong, hired Steve Jobs, and developed a series of robots. He lives in California. @NolanBushnell