Alcatel-Lucent CEO Ben Verwaayen gave a keynote speech this morning at the EmTech conference, running today and tomorrow at MIT. He spoke of tech innovations and — perhaps most importantly — the need to turn them into sustainable, profitable businesses. During the question-and-answer session, which always manages to be more interesting than the actual talk, Verwaayen shared his three requirements for a product to be successful:
- Speed – From idea to execution, you must move quickly. “If it takes too long to get your product to market, it doesn’t matter if it is great.”
- Relevance to customers – “You say: It’s great!’ But why is it great? ‘Because it’s great!'” That’s not enough. “The customer will ask, ‘What can I do with it?'” He noted that a product might seem great to its inventor, but if it doesn’t create value for the customer, it’s useless. Verwaayen quoted Apple’s Steve Jobs saying, “The most expensive phrase in Silicon Valley is ‘It will work, because it’s really, really cool.'”
- Business model – Every product must have a viable business model. Lots of customers have a mindset of “great product! Thank you, but I’ll take it for free.” He asks, “Why is everything free on the web, but people are willing to pay for a ringtone?” It doesn’t make any sense. We’ve missed that boat as an industry, totally.”
Another questioner asked what was the “most surprising and unanticipated consumer demand” in telecom. Verwaayen said that the industry “missed everything.” “We missed email. We missed SMS. Some people have made a lot of money with ringtones…[Telecom companies] think technology; we don’t think end users.”
Afterwards, I asked him where he looks to see what the next trends in telecom are — to try to discover them before it’s too late. His answer? Whatever 15-year-olds are using.