Two decades ago people all over the world were in a panic over a technology bug.
As 1999 came to a close, governments and programmers around the world were scrambling to fix flaws in software that some predicted would send civilization into chaos. Not long after the clock struck midnight on Jan 1st 2000 people realised the situation was severely overhyped!
The Y2K bug didn’t have a major impact on civilization, nor did it deter the first breed of esk8-innovators who began building & commercialising electrically powered skateboards.
For those of you who have been in self-isolation since the Y2K bug threatened to disrupt life on earth as we know it, you might not be aware that modern-day electric skateboards are made up of some very high tech electronics combined with some not-so-high-tech tried & tested skateboard parts. For a rider to have a great experience, all the new tech & old tech needs to work together flawlessly to ensure the finished product is reliable, safe and practical.
Most people would agree that the mechanical technology “aka common skateboard hardware” used in making e-boards has mostly reached maturity, it’s reliable & bug-free! On the other hand, most of the software & electronic elements are relatively new innovations and will need ongoing development & user feedback before all the bugs get ironed out, it’s far from mature!
For early adopters, engineers, product designers & entrepreneurs, early-stage technology development can be both exciting, yet not without risk. The journey is packed to the brim with unknown challenges, emotions running high, the potential for glorious victories and life-shattering failures are around every corner.
It’s obvious why new tech development attracts plenty of HYPE…… it’s just fascinating, people can’t help get emotionally charged up. Hype can snowball very quickly and can be a company’s dream come true, or in contrast, their worst nightmare when the hype bubble pops.
In Components Based Builds, Or DIY Electric Skateboard building, hype peaks during discussions about the latest and greatest ESC, BMS & Phone Apps. Mechanical parts can still get their fair share of hype too, new tech such as gear drives, new motor designs and from time to time wheel & truck designs get some hype too.
As a product manufacturer if you combine all those goodies together into a complete product you get a hyper-board, if you can pull it off you’re a hero, if you hit a few bumps along the road beware! A community packed with emotionally charged early adopters does not tolerate failure well, they will label you a scammer, threaten to sue you and probably draw dicks on your face.
So why do some people get so emotionally charged up about new tech?
Hype is the Light & Shade surrounding all new Innovations, but why does it build up around some projects and innovations when there are no concrete facts about form, function or performance deemed necessary to form a basis for the hype. Hype for unreleased & untested technology comes from emotional and irrational beliefs, the hopes & dreams of a technophile with a vision of an amazing new future… it is contagious, it’s speculative, it’s dangerous.
People lining up to get the first
As long as we have smart engineers, risk-taking entrepreneurs and enough working capital from investors/early-adopters there should always be an endless pipeline of innovation and product improvements, with hoards of hyped-up cashed-up consumers benefiting from all this awesome new stuff, right? Well, it’s not that always good news, depending on the hype & development cycle, things can go from good to bad quickly.
Sadly over the years, many esk8 startup companies that invest heavily into driving innovation end up hitting a wall that is too tall for them to climb over, ultimately they fail. So what is actually going on? Why is it so hard to create an awesome esk8 brand, deliver great innovations and most importantly survive the hype and thrive with plenty of happy customers?
We can use the Hype Cycle chart to better understand market forces and why there are more business failures than success in the world of esk8 today. The reasons businesses fail is incredibly complex and this article isn’t designed to provide a detailed analysis of that. However, if we must summarise all the failures into one catchphrase, would this suffice; “Too much hype too soon”?
Compare boosted with evolve, very different start! Boosted hit the scene with lots of hype, and huge amounts of cash, gained a large herd of devotees, yet never really improved their product over time. Unlike evolve, who really wasn’t doing anything high-tech or innovative in the beginning. In contrast, Unlike boosted, Evole kept working hard on iterations and improvements over time, now some would say they have earned some legitimate hype where boosted’s hype bubble popped.
- Innovation Trigger: The Hype Cycle starts when a breakthrough, product launch or other event generates interest in a technology innovation.
- Peak of Inflated Expectations: A wave of “buzz” builds and the expectations for this innovation rise above the current reality of its capabilities.
- Trough of Disillusionment: Inevitably, impatience for results begins to replace the original excitement about potential value. Problems with performance, slower-than-expected delivery all lead to missed expectations, and disillusionment sets in.
- Slope of Enlightenment: Some early adopters overcome the initial hurdles, begin to experience benefits and recommit efforts to move forward.
- Plateau of Productivity: With the real-world benefits of the innovation demonstrated and accepted, growing numbers of consumers feel comfortable with the now greatly reduced levels of risk. A sharp rise in adoption begins
This chart below shows the market share of a new innovation and consumer groups that are purchasing & driving growth over time. I think it is fair to say that the esk8 industry is still very young, many of the innovations DIY ESK8 builders discuss/purchase have not gained more than a few points of market share and are likely still under development. The majority of esk8 builders are early adopters, with only a small percentage of consumers appearing in the early majority stage.
If you combine both charts from above you can see new technology Innovations & early adopters with Inflated expectations create a very volatile market.
Let’s dive a little deeper by looking at discrete components that go inside a component-based electric skateboard build. Take the VESC project, you can look at this innovation from a Marco perspective as shown in this chart:
You can also look at it from a Micro level, examining how a new product/brand enters the market and how well they deliver on their promises over time and how this emotionally impacts the early adopters.
The Marco Hype curve is built up from all the micro hype curves combined together. The overall success of the VESC Project will be determined by the micro successes that occur when new start-up businesses deliver on their promises.
Some micro-events will be successful & others won’t be, Some may help to build the project up & others might hold it back, either way, these events create valuable data so that engineers & product designers can make improvements over time. Only when combining all the various trials, errors & time together can we collectively drive technology further & further towards the plateau of productivity where new technology adoption is more widespread and consumers have minimal financial risk and maximum satisfaction. Risk-taking, success & failure work hand in hand to drive technology to the plateau of productivity.
The good news is the small percentage of startup tech companies that survive through these trials and tribulations and arrive at the plateau of productivity face much less risk of failure, which is also a big win for consumers.
Still with me? If you have read this far you deserve a high five!
So now you’re probably wondering what all this means? What can we do to fix this? How can we improve the situation? How can we flatten the hype curve? How can we make technology better & bring it to market faster? How can we help prevent businesses from failing?
Sadly, I don’t really have many answers! I’m only just starting to grasp how hard hardware & software development really is. It’s really fucking hard! However, I have learned & I am far more conscious of the hype cycle and how herd mentality in consumer groups can make or break a project.
My overall feeling is that the HYPE cycle isn’t really a problem that needs to be fixed per se, it just needs to be acknowledged & understood. In reality, a market and the hype cycle that is driving innovations functions as a big living stress test and filter that swallows up the shit and eventually poops out good tech at the other end.
I think we all just need to be aware of the hype and not get too excited, let things play out naturally, be patient and rational. As they say; “Good things come to those that wait”
If you are an early adopter, keep your emotions in check, refrain from making recommendations based on hearsay. Only ever recommend products when you have personally seen it, personally tested it, or have empirical evidence that what you are recommending is actually as awesome as you say it is. If other people are promoting something ask them how they came to their conclusions. Beware, this industry is rampant with affiliate marketers and shills who promote products without any first-hand evidence of quality or performance for the promise of a few bucks.
Purchasing new tech from startups is speculative! Early adopters need to realise they are actually becoming an investor in small business and that investment/purchase might end up being a bad one. Do your due diligence and if you decide to purchase take some responsibility for that decision.
If you’re an innovator with entrepreneurial ambitions and are thinking of starting up a company developing new technology and making a few bucks. Pat yourself on the back champ! The proof is in the pudding, build it, test it, iterate, fail a few times, do it over again and again, eventually you will have a product worthy to show your potential customers, maybe also worthy of some hype too. If you work hard enough, and never give up, one day you can turn a profit and be proud that you earned it.
Thank you for reading my article, it turned out longer than I originally expected!
My name is Jason Potter, My startup business Enertion failed recently, I got caught up in the hype myself and have learned lots of hard lesson along the way.
I am very much looking forward to the next few years of electric skateboard building, many of the innovations from the last few years are now creeping up the slope of enlightenment and being more broadly adopted in the industry.
As we all march forward, together as a community, sharing stories of our victories & failures, we can all be confident that our next build will be better than our last.