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Matthieu Wipliez
Matthieu Wipliez
Matthieu Wipliez is CTO and co-founder of the Synflow EDA start-up company. He has spent the last two years working on a new programming language called C~ ("C flow") for next-generation hardware design, and developing an IDE for that language. Matthieu writes about what he loves, like disruptive … More »

How we’re finally marketing a disruptive innovation the right way

 
December 28th, 2014 by Matthieu Wipliez

Something occurred to me the other day as I was explaining a typical example of disruptive innovation as given in The Innovator’s Dilemma: how Japanese motorcycles (Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha) disrupted the existing heavy motorcycles made by Harley-Davidson and BMW.

Before:

Harley - Davidson bike (c) 2012 eagle1effi - Flickr

After:

Honda CB125F MY 2015 (c) 2014 attrazionemotori - Flickr

Both are fine motorcycles if you ask me, they just fulfill different needs (somehow I have trouble imagining Sons of Anarchy riding 125CC Hondas).

I have read the book a year and a half ago, so I don’t recall the exact details (and apparently it’s ok), but the core idea is this: the new motorcycles were lighter, less powerful, and cheaper. Existing motorcycles dealers were reluctant to sell these, and from what I recall Honda basically had to develop its own sales network! Interestingly, a variation of this is happening to Tesla Motors, with existing car dealers feeling threatened by Tesla’s direct sales model, to the point that they’re lobbying to forbid Tesla to sell its cars. Eventually, they [car dealers] will fail and the deprecated car dealership model will disappear and we will have legacy gasoline-powered cars. Until then, good luck to Tesla!

What this means for disruptive innovation marketing

This means that often you will need to sell your disruptive innovation in a different market than the one you’re disrupting. You will never sell a Honda to somebody who already owns a Harley Davidson. This has less to do with practical reasons than with beliefs, of course, because people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

A (bad) example

In the Electronic Design Automation domain (software to design semiconductors), what could have once been considered a disruptive innovation is High-Level Synthesis (HLS). The idea was to let people write software and transform it into hardware.

Abandoned machinery(c) 2007 arnog - Flickr

There are two mostly two kinds of HLS vendors:

  • vendors targeting ASIC (custom integrated circuits) designs see HLS as a way to make design more productive, and sell their product to hardware designers; they are not very successful, despite millions of dollars poured in marketing. Their promise is not very inspiring, and additionally they’re selling to the same market, which makes sales very difficult. And as a result the product is very expensive (to provide enough return on investment), not to mention complex… Disruptive should be simpler and cheaper than the existing technology, which is no longer the case here.
  • vendors targeting FPGA (mostly the FPGA vendors themselves) see HLS as a way to lure convince people to use their FPGAs and to make hardware design more productive (like the other vendors, yes). They’re trying to sell to software and hardware engineers at the same time. And they are not very successful either. They’re trying to sell to people who have vastly different expectations, and their promise is not very inspiring either. And what good is vendor X’s product if you later want to use vendor Y’s FPGAs?

What about us?

We’ve spent a lot of time trying the same recipes listed above with some variation here or there, and we’ve consistently failed until recently. We’ve *mostly* known for a while why we were doing what we were doing, but not really for whom we were doing it or why they should care. Most hardware designers in fact don’t care much about being more productive. Turns out we’ve been trying to sell Hondas to bikers riding on Harley-Davidsons for far too long!

Spirit of Innovation (c) 2014 danielfoster - Flickr

Our manifesto

We believe that hardware design should be accessible to everybody who knows how to code. We want to take the experience of designing hardware to the same level as writing software. This is why day after day we’re removing the obstacles that prevent programmers from designing hardware (either using FPGAs or designing integrated circuits).

How

Rather than rely on complicated standards with proprietary extensions, and instead of using a proprietary version of languages that are ill-suited for hardware, we’ve created our own language and an open source compiler. Our language is simple, more so than any other language out there, but without being simplistic. We sell tools that are affordable and make hardware faster and cheaper to design, for everybody.

Conclusion

I hope that this post has been useful to you to understand why we exist as a company, what our values are, and how we’re finally marketing our disruptive technology the right way. Don’t hesitate to comment below!

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