Ten approaches to getting your product to market ahead of your rivals

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April 21, 2005 — Whether you are a section manager overseeing new technology initiatives in a corporate lab or a project leader shepherding technology development in a startup, chances are you could use more resources. Underfunded projects and overburdened staff make the goal of beating your competition seem a quixotic dream.

In my experience, vertical integration of resources, compared to sharing resources, provides the most effective method of quickly getting to market. The task is to utilize approaches that will attract the needed resources, whether they are permanent or loaned or partnered, in order to form the critical density development team. Success hinges on your ability to compete effectively, whether the source is a corporation’s fixed budget, a government agency’s grant money or a venture capitalist’s purse.

As a vice president and director of Motorola’s Physical Research Labs, I had long-term on-the-job training that helped me gradually hone the skills needed to get the people, equipment and continued support of management for projects. What I discovered is that the approaches that work are very effective and easily learned, but they require a combination of discipline, experience and networking.

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Here are my 10 points for attracting resources. Following these approaches may not always provide the result you want, when you need it, but you will certainly make your project visible, understandable and believable and create important allies who can help in the future.

The very first and most important step is to be convinced that, if your technology were 100 percent successful, the impact would be worth the investment compared to alternative technologies. Start by evaluating your technology against all conceivable technical and organizational competition, estimating where the competition will be at the time the technology comes to market. Be totally paranoid about getting blind-sided by alternative technologies because stakeholders will certainly lose confidence in leaders who lead them down the wrong path. Utilize data, not hype and not promises, to demonstrate that there is no superior approach. This analysis provides the information needed to move forward or kill the project. When and if you are convinced that the analysis has been exhaustive and positive, you are ready for the next steps.

Develop a convincing storyline and an elevator speech. These are critical components of a successful business model. Suppose you get on the elevator with your target investor and he asks about your technology. By the time he gets off the elevator, you must give him the few points that describe why it is cheaper, faster and better than the competition and how you will win in the marketplace. This is also called the value proposition.

Generate a risk list and identify potential showstoppers. Recent warnings about heart attacks associated with beta-blockers are one example of a potential showstopper. High standby leakage current in 10-nanometer MOSFETs is believed to be a potential showstopper to Moore’s Law. Look for reliability issues that may surface in practical use but may be overlooked in typical lab tests.

Construct a roadmap and budget assuming that the project will be completely successful. As it ramps through R&D, the costs predictably increase. Don’t be bashful. Ask for the budget that is needed to do the job that meets management expectations.

Pick low-hanging fruit to get into the game. Increase the level of sophistication after you can demonstrate feasibility of the primary concept.

Identify product organizations that can benefit from the technology. These are potential suppliers of resources. In our early compound semiconductor days, our government electronics group used our technology to attract funding. They assigned several researchers to our lab to accelerate development of microwave integrated circuits.

Take the story on the road. Publicize your work, plans and potential outcomes. Identify the potential market size and whether it is niche or mainstream. Network with potential product groups and explore the competitive advantages of utilizing your technology. Continuously frame your technical progress against the evolving competitive threats to the stakeholder businesses. The potential size of the market and the cost of getting to commercialization will drive the size of investment in the project.

Eschew hype. Manage expectations. Never promise more than is reasonable and believable. Utilize data to present the story and keep the data flowing to demonstrate progress. A well-researched storyline speaks for itself.

Encourage product groups to become stakeholders. They can often provide personnel to help accelerate development and then help lead the tech transfer process into commercialization.

Focus attention on the critical path goals and milestones. Build a reputation for focusing on the highest risk tasks and avoiding detours from the start. Getting the product to market and hitting the market window at the right time is the main goal.

Attracting resources is an extremely competitive exercise. Investors see many requests that fail to make business sense because the story does not hang together. Oftentimes, one or more of the 10 approaches is missing or incomplete. I offer these approaches, not as the last word in how to get resources, but as techniques that will greatly improve the odds if used wisely.


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