Category Archives: Technology

How Do You Set Up Co-Development Partnerships? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company has clients who are interested in projects for which the company’s partners already have partial designs. There is an opportunity to leverage these partial designs into development of full solutions for their clients. How should the company approach this in a way that satisfies their customers and is fair to their partners? How do you set up co-development partnerships?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Given this opportunity it is no longer important who performed what part of the development. As long as your partners have quoted you what they believe to be a fair price for their development pieces, you are free to accept their price, complete development to your clients’ specifications, and sell the full solution to the client at market prices.
  • What you bring to the table is the opportunity to rapidly monetize the technology. This is something that your partners can’t do, so by filling this role you are acting in the interest of all parties.
  • What you charge for your work and the full solution depends on the potential value to the client. Time is money, and delivery now is worth a premium price to a client who needs your solution and wants to release their product as soon as possible.
  • This strategy is particularly applicable to early stage companies who need to release their initial products and start generating revenue.
  • Take a note from Bill Gates – sell the product for a good price and then buy or acquire the supply.

How Do You Develop Products with a Foreign Firm? Five Ideas

Situation: A company has been approached by a foreign company that is interested in their expertise. The foreign firm says that they are only interested in their own domestic market, and want the company’s help developing new products for their existing domestic clients. How do you develop products with a foreign firm?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There is great variability between companies in different locales and on different continents. Before proceeding with negotiations, get references from the company and check them carefully. Research the company and its local market.
  • Relationship will be critical. You want to meet with their CEO. This is an important factor working with any company. Watch the commitment level of the CEO and top staff. Take an expert with you – someone knowledgeable about local mannerisms who can read the body language in meetings. Position this individual as someone who is assisting you in the negotiation.
  • If you proceed with negotiations toward an agreement, make your enforcement jurisdiction either the US or a neutral country with a western judicial system. For example, if the company is Chinese, make the enforcement jurisdiction either Hong Kong or Macao.
  • Will intellectual property be a factor? If so, get an IP attorney knowledgeable about both the market of the other company as well as your preferred enforcement jurisdiction.
  • Could this help you to augment or fund your own development? If so, ask for rights to produce and distribute products developed through the collaboration in the US and other markets outside of partner’s domestic market.

How Do You Move a Live Online Data Center? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company has run out of space and is planning a move to a new and larger facility. The biggest challenge is that they maintain a live online data center upon which their clients depend. How do you move a live online data center?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is not a rare event. Many companies with live online data centers have to upgrade their systems on a regular basis as equipment and software technologies evolve. Maintaining service during a move is not significantly different. Research what steps these companies have taken to minimize disruption during upgrades.
  • Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Seek outside expertise to help you plan the move, and to develop options that will minimize both downtime and service interruption.
  • Ask a trusted data center resource for a 3rd party audit of your move plan.
  • When one company moved, they overlapped their leases by one month, and their Internet connections by 2-3 months. This gave them breathing room as they completed the move and allowed them to stay live uninterrupted through the move.
  • Another company increased their back up servers and service. They also planned their move to occur during what they knew would be a low demand block of time. As a result, they were able to complete the move, plug in the servers and were only down for 30 minutes.
  • If it is feasible, consider leaving your old center in place as a back-up data center.
  • Conduct a number of practice shutdowns and restarts to test your systems.

How Do You Reduce Risk in OEM Agreements? Four Guidelines

Situation: A company is introducing a new technology. They are evaluating an OEM licensing model. They have been advised that if they go forward independently they will be perceived as a threat by OEMs, and this may inhibit their ability to form key OEM partnerships. How do you reduce risk in OEM agreements?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Consider moving forward with a mixed model – both seeking OEM relationships and also selling direct to the market. Because you will be actively entertaining OEM relationships the risk of threatening them will be reduced. In addition, this will help you convince OEMs that your market opportunity is real.
  • A purchaser of intellectual property (IP) will always try to go around your only offer is an IP license. They would rather own the IP than pay licensing fees. Therefore pursuing your own product applications makes sense to convince the market that you are more than just IP.
  • There is a risk to this strategy – being caught in the middle. You can end up seeking two clients, your own end users and the OEMs. They aren’t the same and don’t necessarily share common interests. Just be aware of this.
  • You must be able to succinctly explain your value proposition to client audiences, whether these are OEMS, end users or potential funding sources. In the case of the latter two, they also need to easily understand the critical value proposition to the end user, as well. This value proposition will be your 30 second elevator speech.

What Leads in Building Brand Focus? Five Factors

Situation: A company faces a question branding a new product – what should lead the branding focus: product design or product attributes that will be an eventual part of the branding strategy? Which should lead in building brand focus?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are two areas of focus – each an important part of the overall trademark and branding strategy:
    • A distinct name or symbol, for example Amazon.com or eBay, will gain the right kind of attention and be easy for potential customers to remember. The prime risk here is stepping on someone else’s mark.
    • Your overall branding strategy. The point here is not confusing your customers. Marketing people will advise you to KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid! One tack is simplifying the complexity of technology.
  • It is important to develop a consistent set of product attributes – one that you know through research will resonate with your client base – before your Alpha launch. It is dangerous to conduct an Alpha launch without clarity on this point. Subtleties of the eventual brand do not need to be finalized, but the overall framework of key product attributes should be consistent and clear from the beginning.
  • Design and the development of important product attributes ideally take place in synch with each other. Positioning will depend on your audience, and the unique needs and expectations of the audience.
  • The name itself could be important. Being clear and easy to spell may be important. Test alternative names for this trait.

How Do You Respond to Market Changes? Three Options

Situation: A company has a successful product, but the market is changing. Previous customers were savvy, but the market is shifting to more naïve customers who don’t understand how to use the product. How so you respond when the market for your product changes?

  • What you are seeing is a typical market evolution. (See Clayton Christensen’s book Crossing the Chasm.)
    • When a new product is introduced, early adopters are typically savvy users who quickly grasp the utility of the product. They don’t mind some inconvenience provided the product is useful.
    • As the market matures and starts to attract mainstream customers, new users will not be as sophisticated and expect the product to be easy to use.
    • If you don’t adapt to these new customers your product will languish as new competitors enter the market with user-friendly adaptations.
  • The path is clear. Figure out how to make your product easy to use. If you use a GUI (graphic user interface) make the GUI intuitive. Allow customers to get what they need with as few choices or clicks as possible.
    • These changes may alienate more sophisticated customers, but they usually only represent a small segment of your potential market.
  • Add a customer-friendly service component. This builds a service income base around the product. You have different options.
    • Align the customer with appropriate level of resource – you may not require high level resources to assist the customer, particularly if the product is one where the service consultant only needs to be one page ahead of the user.
    • Outsource the service component to a partner or use independent contractors.
  • Consider a remote monitor system:
    • A dashboard interface with easy to read visuals or messages that tell the customer when service is needed. This will enable them to perform simple maintenance using your tools, or alert them when they need to contact you for service.
    • An example is Norton’s evolving system of products that enables an unsophisticated home computer user to either use Norton tools to perform routine maintenance, or directs them to the Norton web site for assistance or more sophisticated solutions.

How Do You Respond to Demands for Process Upgrades? Five Suggestions

A company manufactures components for an important large customer. That customer now specifies that all components need to be manufactured under clean room conditions. The company can’t afford to lose this customer but is at a loss as to how they should respond. How do respond to demands for expensive process upgrades?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start with a discussion. Ask them exactly how clean production must be, and what their concerns are. You can also offer to perform destructive testing (at the customer’s expense) to demonstrate that your current processes meet their specs.
  • Look at the overall cost of the clean room conversion versus your anticipated profits on the job. Make sure that your profits justify the conversion.
  • Increase your prices to the customer based on the new requirement, and make sure that the increased price pays for your conversion at a minimum. If they ask why your prices have increased, explain that the process that they now demand is more expensive because of the costs of operating under clean room conditions.
  • If the customer is a very large player and is doing this because of demands placed on them by their customers or regulators you may have little bargaining room other than complying and adjusting your prices accordingly.
  • Consider a prefab clean room. Especially in high tech areas like Silicon Valley you may be able to find older rooms at a bargain rate. If you don’t have space in your current location or upgrades will be very expensive consider leasing new space for this job.

Better to Focus on Cash or IP Protection? Three Suggestions

Situation: A company is resource constrained and faced with a serious trade-off: do they focus on short term cash needs – immediate product improvements that will speed new product iterations to boost sales; or longer term strategic concerns – assuring that they have good IP protection on their technology before they launch new versions? When you are resource constrained, does it make more sense to focus on initiatives that will quickly produce cash or strategic concerns that will protect your future?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Build two timelines – one for shoring up the patent portfolio so that you can safely build and launch new IP-protected versions of your technology and one for quickly completing product improvements to speed development of new product iterations which will generate cash. Assess both the energy requirements and the dollar risks and implications of each timeline. If you do not have the resources to do both in parallel, this analysis will help you to determine your best course of action. The risk analysis of each timeline should take into account what would happen if another company were to duplicate your technology and get to market with improvements before you do.
  • As a compliment to the above exercise, ask what happens if I don’t do either A or B? Do a SWOT and investment analysis on both. Which is the greater risk – launching with insufficiently protected IP or risking not being first to market?
  • These analyses will help you assess whether it may be feasible to accomplish part or all of either task with dollars in lieu of your own resources.

How Do You Satisfy a Difficult Foreign Customer? Three Factors

Situation: A company has a long-term relationship with a Japanese distributor that is also an investor in the company. Due to time zone differences and language difficulties, communications are very difficult. This leads to significant cost overruns for the company. How do you satisfy a difficult foreign customer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In working with a difficult partner, it is critical to set expectations, establish ground rules and repeat these at the beginning of each conversation or teleconference until it is clear that both sides understand each other. Even at this point, these should be repeated and reinforced any time a new individual is participating in the conversation.
    • Do you want us to give you (a) our honest answer, or (b) do you want us to tell you what we think you want to hear? – They would be foolish to choose (b).
    • Preface each critical response with this choice to reinforce the agreement at the beginning of the meeting.
  • In a situation where you are losing money under a fixed price contract, you may have to have a “Come to Jesus” meeting. During this conversation, you want to understand and establish:
    • Whether this relationship is profitable for both of us, and
    • Whether this project is doable by each of us.
    • Usually this will result in a radical shift in the model.
    • If it does not they it is better for both if you part ways. You are unlikely to reconcile the situation.
  • The bottom line is to establish, mutually, whether you can satisfy your partner through your efforts. This is critical to your future with this customer.
    • If you cannot find an acceptable solution you must abandon the effort.
    • It makes no sense to take on business that is not profitable to you, even if the revenue is important to plan achievement.
    • At the current rate, you will not make up the loss in profitability through additional volume.

How Do You Recruit Hard-to-Find Talent? Five Solutions

Situation: A company needs a strong pool of engineers in their market niche to stay ahead of the competition. Their niche is specialized with little transferability from other engineering specialties. They struggle to find local talent and relocation expenses are high. How have you recruited hard-to-find talent?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you want a mix of fresh and experienced talent and need to add 3 to 5 new engineers per year to keep up with growth and turnover, you will be hiring a new engineer every 2-3 months so you need a standardized, repeatable process that is ongoing. If you don’t have either in-house or reliable outsourced HR capabilities, you need to secure this as soon as possible.
  • Consider establishing a satellite office in a geographic area which has an available talent pool.
    • Look for areas with a top university engineering program in your field.
    • Look at your key competitors’ locations and see whether they are in areas with both the educational and industrial-technology base to be a candidate location.
  • As you develop a new geography, forge strong relationships with the university programs that can feed you the younger talent that you need. This is a win-win relationship, because universities are focused on their placement statistics and corporate support.
    • Get to know the professors in your specialty and explore establishing a center of study or excellence within the engineering programs.
    • One company works closely with Santa Clara University and developed a program that offers financial rewards for the best technical papers produced by students in their specialty. This has created a buzz around the company, helped to establish a study program in their specialty, and enables them to attract the best and brightest graduates.
  • As you establish a reputation for attracting the best younger talent, this can help you to attract seasoned talent that wants to work with the brightest young talent in the field.
  • Another option is to find 2-3 key experienced engineers who are willing to relocate for the opportunity to build a new team.