Commercialise on new product introduction

Your idea should make money, not burn it

Catergory Transport
By John Lucas

Since the beginning of time, people have had ideas. And some of them have overcome vast new product introduction challenges to bring their ideas to fruition.

Is this always a good thing?

In 1869, the expansion hungry Midland Railway Company embarked on a new project to connect the east and west coast main railway lines together. This would allow passengers from the Midlands and Yorkshire to more easily access the west of Scotland. They called it the Settle – Carlisle Line.

Overseen by veteran engineer John Crossley, it was a gargantuan task. Laying the 73 miles of track needed, involved blasting 14 tunnels and building 22 viaducts across the undulating Yorkshire Dales and North Pennine landscape. A huge amount of engineering effort for a relatively short line. To give you a perspective, one of these viaducts alone, spans an incredible 402m, standing 32m high on piers sunk 8m into the marshy ground below. An impressive feat in itself. And that’s before you get to the other 21.

It wasn’t just the landscape against them either. The brutal winter weather halted progress for months on end throughout the build. The ground would literally freeze solid and illness would often sweep through the 6000 men employed on the job.

Undeterred, Crossley pressed on and the railway opened in 1875. He had pulled off the most technologically challenging project in the history of rail construction.

In 1975, a high-flying General Motors executive named John DeLorean quit his job to follow his dream of producing a car of his own design. And quite some design it was. A sleek mid-engined sports car with futuristic Stainless-Steel body panels and dramatic gull wing doors. There was much to be excited about.

DeLorean wasn’t a man to hang around. He set himself a gruellingly short time frame to get the car into production, and after securing funding from an unlikely quarter -The Northern Ireland Development Agency – achieved just that. The first cars rolled out of a purpose-built state of the art factory in 1981. A spectacular achievement given he didn’t have a prototype let alone a factory only a few years earlier.

So, both good things, then?

In the case of the Settle-Carlisle line, the Midland Railway executives hadn’t troubled to find out whether anybody within the Midlands and Yorkshire actually wanted to travel to the west of Scotland before the project began. It became brutally apparent on opening that they didn’t. £330 million in today’s terms was lost and the business virtually ruined.

In DeLorean’s case he failed to spot that discerning sports car buyers weren’t going to buy a car that cost the same as Porsche’s iconic 911, but was much slower, nowhere near as well made and had a badge nobody had heard of. DeLorean went bust losing over £50m (close to £105m today) of UK tax payers’ money in the process.

So, not so good. Actually, it was disastrous for the organisations involved.

So what are we trying to say here? Well, both projects failed for the same reason. Someone had an interesting idea. Realising the idea presented a huge technological challenge, everybody around it got excited and started to attack that challenge. And they were so hell bent on technical victory, nobody remembered to think through the money side of things. Neither project had a proper commercial business intelligence strategy for new product introduction.

And this is more common than you might think. Especially so in the technology sector, where in most heads, ideas seem to proliferate over hard outcomes. To give you a real example, who – other than its originator – would pay money for a toaster that can be controlled via the internet? Or a robot which wants to kickbox you all day?

At Tharsus we have been through the new product introduction process many times, delivering Strategic Machines to customers including Ocado, BT and Safetykleen which have delivered substantial ROI revenues back to them. This is because our starting point was to first of all prove, and then hone, a robust commercial business intelligence strategy for each. And this is the way we start with all of our customers in their quest to engineer progress.

If you want your idea to make money rather than burn it, we’ll be happy to talk to you. Get in touch with us here.

John is CCO of Tharsus and leads on group strategy development as we look to broaden our markets and continue our growth journey

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