Lessons from the Accelerator: Repurpose Technology

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Taking something old and making it new again is an idea as old as mankind itself. Ever since our ancestors took sticks and stones and crafted spears for hunting, we have sought to take already existing ideas and turn them into something greater than the sum of their parts.

At SparkLabKC, many of the start-ups founders we meet have an intuition for spotting new uses for old products as much as they are coming up with disruptive new ideas no one has thought about before.  More often than not, these entrepreneurs are repurposing an old idea in a new space.

In fact, most would say that there are no new ideas….just old ideas revived in a new way. Many successful products, like WD-40, Kleenex®, and Post-it Notes, were first intended to have different uses than what they have today. Being able to make connections and see opportunities is half the battle when it comes to repurposing old technologies.

How can we take something old and antiquated and make it new, efficient, and profitable?

Steve Jobs defined creativity as taking old experiences and ideas and applying them in new ways:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel guilty because they are able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

This way of thinking can be applied when looking for new purposes for old products and services. At SparkLabKC, we encourage startups in the program to look to existing products and business models for innovative ideas. But how do we spot things in technology, products, businesses, or brands that can be revived?

To revive old products, you must spot new opportunities 

One example of a repurposed product is propane. You probably think of lighting up the grill on the back patio when the image of a propane tank comes to mind, but there are many additional uses for the alternate energy source. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there has been an increase in propane-fueled vehicles in the United States. 

There are many reasons for people to abandon petroleum and switch to propane: it’s cheaper, it’s environmentally friendly, it’s healthier for people, and the vast majority of propane used in the United States is produced in the United States. The propane industry was able to understand the wide range of opportunities the market presented, and applied their product to the need.

With the increase of gas prices, the government has been promoting the use of propane as alternative fuel for vehicles that range from agricultural equipment to off-road entertainment vehicles. There is now an entire aspect of the propane industry that deals with converting vehicles that were once gasoline fueled to being propane fueled.

3 Principles for Product Revival

What are some necessary steps to reviving a product, brand, service, or technology? At Eidson & Partners, we believe there are universal principles that can be used to see if a product should and can be repurposed.

1. Listen to the Market

Finding the space in the market that your product will occupy is vital. Don’t be afraid to use existing market research. Market research can look like anything from reading insightful interviews to examining user demographics. Any kind of information can be helpful in forming the vision of what your product can be. 

2. The Product Must Help Tell Your Story

Make sure the product aligns with your brand story. Would Nike market a sugary drink? Would Apple market a product with poor user-interface? Would Chipotle market a menu item with no organic ingredients?

If a product doesn’t align with your brand then it shouldn’t be revived. Sometimes repurposing of an entire brand can be bolstered by the revival of one product. For example, in 1998 on the verge of bankruptcy, Apple released the iMac. A beautifully designed personal computer was needed in the marketplace, and Steve Jobs knew it. The success of the iMac triggered the uptick of Apple, which went on to develop the iPod, iPhone, and iPad in the decade after.

3. Expand Your Reach

Revive a product only if it will guarantee entry into a new area of the market. The product doesn’t have to be a world changing idea – it’s also great to hit niche markets. Being able to reach further markets plays into the above two steps. By knowing what market to reach based off research, your product will be able to better tell your brand story to a wider audience.

As you’ve read, repurposing old technology isn’t as simple as attaching a rock and branch together to make a spear like our Neanderthal ancestors did.  But if you take the time and effort to spot possible products that are ripe for repurposing, it can be well worth the effort for you and your customers.

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