It's Not Easy Having a Machine Looking for Trouble

(The doll in the picture is Doraemon, who is a robot cat)

I've now spent some three weeks working with VTT, taking the first steps towards commercializing one or two of their magical food making machines.

As an entrepreneur and active participant in the startup ecosystem, we are constantly bombarded (and as coaches bombarding others) with the latest and most effective ways to get your business started.

From the top of my head, here are some clichés that is usually tossed around

  • Deeply understand your customer's problems and needs
  • Use the interview techniques of The Mom Test
  • Fail fast, fail cheap
  • Get customer interaction as soon as you can, way before you have coded or built anything.
  • Use mock-ups
  • Test the market interest by fake doors, wizard of oz experiments, and ad campaigns
  • Etc.
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What all this advice has in common is the insisting on exploring the world of the user and the entity that will be paying for the future product. By interviewing, running tests, and experiments the assumptions that underlie the potential success can be validated, making sure that the development that happens is always on track to fulfill the needs of the customer.

But what if it was the other way around? What if you have a concept that everyone involved put a lot of energy and time into, but didn't have a clear end user to focus the development for?

That is what my biggest struggle is at the moment. I'm trying to figure out what the machine can be used for, without the need for too much additional development.

Disclaimer: The scientists that have worked on the two machines have shown exceptional skill and effort. From what I've gathered the whole team surrounding the development have had the best of intentions. This article is strictly discussing the commercialization that I'm now facing, no matter who or what went on before I joined. I want to stress that I respect and admire the development team for their hard work and foresight into what would be a part of solving the future need for personalized food, healthy eating and the continuous growth of vending machines and machine labor.

How to go about solving this problem?

My take on it so far has been:

  • Study the technology to know what it is capable of.
  • Talk with everyone being involved with the project to understand as much of the development as possible.
  • When I meet others, usually recommended to me by VTT employees, I invite them to do quick brainstorms with me to see if they have a new perspective on it.

(During this process, I automatically get ideas)

No matter how big or small the idea, no matter how stupid it might sound at first, I do the due diligence on the idea by googling and bouncing the idea around in my head. This generates new ideas and questions and takes progress further. As the ideas have developed a little bit within myself, I start asking my colleagues at VTT and see what their take on the ideas are.

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So far it has been somewhat of a roller-coaster - me finding a cool problem to solve with our machine, only to find it being solved by some other machine already. Then finding a new angle for our machine to be used, only to see the problem being solved smarter by someone else.

When writing this, there are still a couple of open ideas with potential not yet discredited by competitors or by technical limitations. If you want to add to the idea mix of possible areas of usage by the machine feel free to share.

How would you go about solving this problem? Are there any techniques you would use that I have not yet explored? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

(this is a part of an article series about my work at VTT with commercializing this machine:

Edit: added disclaimer

Edit 2: Reduced the paragraph regarding the challenge itself: But what if it was the other way around? [...]

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