'Economies, scale' key traits of disruptive tech

Tech inventions require significant time before they are considered revolutionary, says inventor, who urges firms to focus instead on lowering costs and increasing their user base to achieve success.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Technology inventions take a long time to be considered revolutionary, so companies should instead work on lowering costs associated with operations, manufacturing and time users need to be familiar with a product, as well as focus on reaching a large base of users to achieve success.

According to Kia Silverbrook, tech inventor and co-founder of Australia-based Silverbrook Research, the essence of disruptive technology, or technology that revolutionizes the world, does not lie in how good the technology is but its impact on "economics and scale". Silverbrook has been awarded 4,459 patents in the U.S. and more than 9,716 patents and patent applications internationally
Speaking at the Distinguished Technopreneur Speaker (DTS) Forum here Thursday, he explained "genuinely new" technology products are rare and many new technology today are derived from previous technology. The rate of change in technology innovation is also chugging along slowly, he said, noting that it takes an average 40 years for an invention to be perceived as innovative.

For instance, the creation of the Internet radio--to replace the radio within a period of 10 years--was not considered a "revolutionary change" as compared to the invention of the car which replaced horses over a period of 40 years, he remarked. 

Since innovation can take considerable time before gaining significance, the only way companies can differentiate themselves is through achieving lower costs, not just in terms of operations and manufacturing but also cost of learning how to use a product. They can also focus on reaching a large base of users, he pointed out. 

Agriculture, for instance, is the "mother of all disruptive technologies" because only 3 percent of the world's population currently grow food to support the entire population of 7 billion, he said, noting that this is a prime example of  lowered cost and high reach.

In the IT industry, he pointed to Apple as a good example of offering disruptive technology because its interface is user-friendly, hence, lowering the cost of users learning how to use its technology while reaching a large number of users.

Startups should find cheap enablers, have partnerships
According to Silverbrook, tech startups typically lack monetary resources and should approach things differently in order to have a successful business.

Most successful technology companies are supported by technology "enablers" and startups should opt for an enabler which already exists to lower operational and manufacturing costs, he explained. The "enabler" of Facebook and Twitter, for example, is the Internet, which is "virtually free", so these companires were able to focus on expanding their reach, he said.

On the other hand, if a company chooses to use a technology enabler which has yet to be invented, they will have to spend "billions of dollars" on it, he added.

To achieve scale, startups can form partnerships with established companies which already have a larger pool of users to help them leapfrog the competition, Silverbrook suggested. 

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