The Best Companies Won’t Wait for the World to Change
by Laura Shenkar, Artemis Group, January 4th, 2008
Setting off in 2008, we must admit that getting out the message of climate change and the value of innovative technology to address it simply isn’t enough to bring about the sweeping new behaviors. We aren’t commuting to work by bus and coal continues to be a key source of energy throughout the US. Even as lush states like North Carolina and Georgia struggle at the limits of their water supply, little innovative water technology or simply conservation has been applied. If the world needs rapid change, then innovative go-to-market strategy must accompany the best innovative technologies.
Shai Agassi’s electric vehicle initiative, Project Better Place, provides one interesting example of the value of innovative strategy in bringing sustainable technologies to market. Project Better Place does not develop its own electric vehicle technology. It focuses upon the consumer rather than the car industry to gain rapid acceptance of a new electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure by addressing the “consumer contract for the vehicle.”
“The consumer’s contract for the EV must be the same – or better – than the consumer’s current contract for gas-powered cars,” Agassi explains. “We need to change the way consumers buy an EV so that it fits the current social contract we have with our cars, providing a normal car ownership experience even if the car has an electric drive train,”
At a small gathering last week, Agassi reviewed some of the details of that “consumer contract.” Most people have their own car and seldom share it. Most cars transport cargo as well as four other individuals, cost about $20K and require a stop for refueling every 400 miles. If an electric car provider can provide the same kind of “consumer contract,” then it could compete directly with the major car manufacturers and gain significant market share in a matter of months.
Winning widespread acceptance for new solutions requires that the technology solutions fit in with existing patterns of use. The success of comprehensive commercial service packages for alternative energy like those offered by SunEdison are showing how established sustainable technologies such as solar power can gain wide acceptance rapidly when their offered in a format similar to that of their existing utilities. SunEdison installs solar panels onsite at a commercial customer’s property and enters into long-term power contracts, typically for 20 years. Pricing is competitive with that of comparable energy costs.
Compelling green technologies for water abound as they do for energy and transport in the marketplace. If they are to become part of our lives, innovative water technology needs to address today’s world and today’s practices. Product by product, existing consumer and business markets have developed an inherent “service contract” with consumers. For a certain price, each product provides a service with performance characteristics. Cola costs about a dollar and comes in cans or bottles which last about a month or longer and can be served cooled. Drinking water is free, but one pays taxes to utilities to support infrastructure and deliver drinkable water to your house.
In agriculture, for residential users as well as commercial and industrial sites, water is a service as well as a product. It is a means to a different end—may it be production of food or microprocessors, drinking or hygiene.
Having worked with innovative technology for two decades, and having worked with innovative “green” technologies for several years, I am convinced that fitting new technology into the existing consumer contracts for the products we seek to replace is a requirement for success.
The world is made every day with our smallest actions and decision, and it can be remade with our actions. As anyone who has ever been on a diet or any corporation implementing cost savings can tell you, it is the end-user who drives profound changes.
Laura Shenkar is Principal of The Artemis Project, a consultancy that specializes in supporting innovative technology companies achieve their potential in the global market. As a member of the leadership team of three successful startups, she has learned how to employ the unique capabilities of a company’s technology and its team to target the best opportunities in an emerging market. Laura is an active member of several national and international water industry associations and participates in governmental water management initiatives as well as venture investment conferences. This combination of activities enables her to share with The Artemis Project clients a wide view of emerging opportunities and new product trends. Ms. Shenkar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.