Is it new? Does it work to solve a new or existing problem? Can it be sold?
Have you noticed a group of people huddled together smiling at a camera hanging on a stick? You may have witnessed the phenomenon that is the selfie stick. If you have travelled within the last couple of years, especially to Europe, you would have seen these selfie sticks in almost every traveller’s hands, which could be quite bothersome for the locals (and some tourists as well!). However, no matter how you look at it, the selfie stick is a simple yet highly profitable creation.
Like most innovative products in the market, the selfie stick started off as an idea. This idea in its raw form would have been developed and examined for commercial viability before being introduced to the market and into the consumer’s reach.
Inventions come in many forms, some are trending products or fads with a short product lifecycle while others may be devices that solve industrial problems that can change entire industries.
The commercial viability of any invention relies on the answers to three main questions:
- Is it new?
- Does it work to solve a new or existing problem?
- Is there a viable market?
These questions are aimed at seeking out the unique value proposition of the invention or an idea , that is, identifying the problem it intends to solve and how is it cheaper, faster, better or more efficient than competing products on the market.
Let’s take the selfie stick as an example. This monopod is simply a metal rod that extends beyond the average length of a person’s arm, to which any camera phone is attached. Depending on the type of selfie stick, the photo can be taken using a wireless remote or by engaging a built in button on the monopod or most simply by activating the camera’s timer.
1) Is it new?
A quick google search using appropriate search terms can reveal whether an idea is novel as well as provide hits on similar products on the market with information on where it can be bought and at what price.
Research unveils that the selfie stick was identified as early as 1995 in a Japanese book of useless inventions. Although the monopod isn’t novel, it has been gathering attention from consumers in the USA and Europe, who can access different variations of the stick for under US$20.00 on Amazon.com
2) Does it work to solve a new or existing problem?
The simplicity of design allows for ease of use and addresses some problems that users may have encountered in taking photographs without this clever tool. You may ask what problem exactly does the selfie stick solve? For starters, by extending the distance of the camera, it increases the range of vision, so that a larger group photo is possible. Secondly it is ideal for vacationers who do not wish to ask random strangers to take their photo. Further to taking beauty shots of oneself or a group, the selfie stick can serve other purposes. It may be useful to capture live shots of a game, in a crowded stadium for instance, without disturbing fans around you to obtain better quality photos. Since the camera is hoisted on a pole, the camera is steadied so even video recordings will look more professional.
3) Is there a viable market?
Some detractors may argue about the magnitude of the problem that the selfie stick solves, or if there exists a problem at all, but market trends and the price point of the simple device, suggest market viability. Timing the market is equally important. Reports allude that the monopod was pitched as early as 1995, but at that time the market was not ready. Fast forward 20 years later, with the advent of social media, where Instagram has more than 300 million users, the market is ripe with possibility.
Any idea must be examined for proof of business in order for commercial success to be realised. It is critical to clearly identify the value proposition, the advantage the invention or idea offers over existing competitor products and the target market for the product.
Many great ideas aren’t commercialized because of a disconnect between the idea, what the market wants and how the product or service is evaluated by the market. It is with this in mind that CARIRI’s Centre for Enterprise Development (CED) which is aimed at facilitating Research, Development and Innovation has introduced a free service called the Idea Advisory Service (IAS) which seeks to close this gap by working with idea generators to assess the facts and assumptions surrounding their ideas.