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Apply New Technology to an Existing Product

Business Axioms for Entrepreneurs

Thinkofthat.net, is filled to the brim with interesting features, from inspirational quotes to business trivia. One of my favorite parts of the site is the list of Business Axioms (or principles) for aspiring entrepreneurs. In this new series, I take an axiom every one to two weeks and have a closer look at it. You can read the first installment, Rethink Your Industry, here. And now, part two in the twelve-part series.

Axiom #2: Apply New Technology to an Existing Product

How can you add-on to an old product — to make it more effective?

We’re all familiar with products that exist in a void of usefulness. Gadgets, trinkets, contraptions– crap you don’t need, don’t want, won’t use, and wish you’d never bought. The goal with Axiom #2 isn’t to encourage more of these (a toilet with a heart rate monitor, an internet-connected microwave!), but if you’re hard pressed for inspiration, this is an area where, amidst the field of bad ideas, there are some really good ones– ideas that have changed everything.

Applying an internal combustion engine to a wagon or a carriage – to create motorized wagons, trucks and cars — was nothing if not applying new technology to an existing product. The four-wheeled vehicles had been in use for centuries. They were pulled by horses or other beasts of burden. The internal combustion engine and diesel engines were technology that changed the world, but only after being applied to existing modes of transportation.

Even today, new technology is changing the “old products” of the transportation industry: Hybrid technology, Bluetooth capabilities, built-in GPS navigation systems, self-driving cars. Every year, the latest technologies are applied to this century-old product, to varying effects.

Historically, electricity is one of the best examples, as it completely transformed nearly every product it touched. Many consumer products that had been in use for centuries had power applied to them: Shears, saws and drills had all been manual tools. Sheep were sheared faster, saws could cut more quickly, drills could go deeper, longer — without fatigue. And yes – your local dentist’s drill could drill into that tooth without the dentist having to pump his or her feet.

The axiom can be seen at work in the entertainment industry as well, most recently with 3D and motion-capture technology. But film itself was born from an older, low-tech “product.” The product was the stage play, and early films used photography to capture a play so it could be shown in many theaters–not just one at a time. Film and live theater seem to get more and more different as time goes by, but the motion picture industry is a direct descendant of the theater. The legacy is evident in the name we still use for movie scripts: the “screen-play.”

This axiom has cropped up in our stories again and again. Several of the businesses we covered in the last Axiom piece, Rethink Your Industry, used new technology as a way of revolutionizing their industry, from Netflix to Amazon. It’s also been a factor in numerous other Think of That blog stories, from the Photoshop Pen to Google Voice. But where you’ll find the most examples of new technology being applied to an existing product is on the Why Didn’t I Think of That? audio feature. Here are just a few examples:

Dr. Fresh— At some point, someone realized that putting a little motor into a toothbrush could help make it more effective. But even the most technically advanced toothbrush will do little good if you can’t get it in your kid’s mouth. Enter Dr. Fresh. Fascinated by his daughter’s obsession with blinking light sneakers, dentist Puneet Nanda applied lights to children’s toothbrushes. The lights not only make the brushes “more exciting” for children, but they instruct kids to keep brushing until the blinking stops. Hear the full story here.

Pandora— Music listening services used to be standard radio stations. You chose the station you liked based on the music they played. But it was potluck compared to Pandora. The entrepreneurs at Pandora applied software and streaming media technology to the music listening service business, to scientifically select and introduce people to music similar to the songs and stylings they already like. Here’s Why Didn’t I Think of That‘s show on Pandora, also check out my feature from last year, The Story of Pandora.

The list goes on, from Vurtego Pogo Sticks to Sed de Saber, it isn’t hard to find examples of businesses that employed this axiom. It’s a little harder to put it to use. But that’s why Bob and Greg developed the axioms in the first place: the idea for a business doesn’t always come before the desire to start a business. Often the drive is there, but the inspiration is not. The 12 Axioms were designed to get the creative juices flowing, and this axiom is ripe with potential.

So do it! Brainstorm a list of ways you can apply new technology to an existing product. The key is providing people with a product that isn’t just new, but one that works better, that does something new and useful. The technology doesn’t have to be cutting-edge, and the original product doesn’t have to be old as dirt. So long as marrying the two creates something of worth, this axiom can be the backbone of a truly winning formula.

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