Glen Oomen Illustration

News

News, the occasional rant and maybe even something smart to say. If I'm going to write it down for posterity, it's going to be here.

 

Glossy Start-ups!

I originally started writing this blog post just to share one very funny spoof on start-up promotional videos, but then I got sidetracked by the idea of glossy videos promoting something that doesn't exist. Anywho in that spirit, courtesy of CBC radio's satirical THIS is THAT, here it is. Behold the much needed riderless bicycle. Read on for more.

Naively I think that anything good should just sell itself. This applies to artwork, engineering or product design - pretty much anything we make. If it's good, people would just seek it out and throw money or resources at it. In my perfect world, largely according to my own ego, the illustration or design work I do would just fly off my computer and out of the studio, no need to peddle it. Done! Next! Clients would just knock down my door with incredible projects and offer me copious wads of cash to do them - nay, copious wads of cash to just think about them!  Luxuriously, I could peruse the offerings and ceremoniously take my pick, announced by a snap of the fingers followed by a dramatic pointing, with same said snappy finger, to the project of choice. My clients would swoon. I wouldn't have to hit the filthy, rough streets at the grimy, soot-stained intersection of Science, Illustration and Design, to hold up a natty cardboard sign advertising my services for the next job. Au contraire! I wouldn't even need this website to market my skill-set, fluffing up my talent and putting a lovely shine on the last project I did. And I could finally dispense with playing nice while working with some of my more delicate clientele (all of my clients are fantastic!). They would have to tolerate the complete and total primadonna that is the REAL me. I would just get work because people saw the last incredible job I did and thought, "Damn the cost, I WANT that!"

But that's not the way the world works. You gotta get out there and peddle your wares, sell your skill-set and convince people you're the person or group that they can cooperate with to get this done and done well. If you're lucky, there's a nice synergy there, you get along and it's a match made in heaven - good work abounds.

Start-ups are really no different. We're experiencing a kind of renaissance II where in we can build just about anything. The main trouble is just what to build. Start-ups need to push their projects forward with often little to no resources. Part of that pushing is the peddling of the wares, whether they exist yet or not. It's done to raise product awareness and create a buzz - a little pre-advertising - and to also help drum up a bit of much needed cash to keep the show on the road. Someone (a general surgeon, to be precise) once said to me while we were planning a fairly large lab project, "We need someone to donate a piece of their pie to us." "That's no easy task", I unnecessarily pointed out. To which he responded, "True, but new pies are baked every day. We need to find someone with a new pie." Indeed. Someone with a new pie. In the world of start-ups and product design we are all in one enormous, mad pie baking contest; trying to bake our own pies while simultaneously trying to pry the pie from the hands of others. In the prying of the pie it sure helps to whet the appetite with a nice video. There is a lot of start-up videos going about. By this point we're all still just a little entranced by the positivity of an upbeat video pitching an idea. See the hope, augmented by instagram filters. Smell that fresh or at least half baked promise. Usability: like butter. Potential profits: mouthwatering. Social responsibility: check. Sustainability: you betcha. Coolness factor: 11.

Some of those videos, like Microsoft's HoloLens are kind of a "We built this thing, find a use for it! (Like, right now! Please?)" It is a cool video featuring an amazing technology; they're showing you its potential, and that is certainly important. That's the point. But you do have to look pretty closely and I don't think everyone realizes that what you'll get in the box isn't the glossy stuff on display. It's just too well produced. It's a bit like buying a video game system that has four incredible looking games, all of which are unfinished and you have to make up the rest. They are selling a medium for which the content does not yet exist; a giant virtual reality carrot dangling on a stick in front of would-be developers.

It is easily possible to overpromise. I give you the Coolest Cooler which, from a manufacturing standpoint, seems utterly unprepared to produce a cooler that also has exactly every feature ever thought of. Did I mention it has every feature ever thought of? Some designers call that "featuritis", and resorting to it is, in many schools of design thought, considered a design failure. Or the Triton artificial gills. Need I say more. The rather humorous example I encountered last year of some hipsters who grew beards, drove vintage Land Cruisers and, between attending Burning Man and Coachella, effortlessly designed a job-site cooler, sadly could not be found... That fact probably speaks for itself. How many of these things spring up, drum up cash and then disappear? Early in my very limited personal finance experience, I learned the hard way not to invest in junior miners. They have no obligation to ever return the money you invested. Many (many) start-ups seem too much like the slicker, smarter, hipper cousin to the upstart gold-mine. They pop up, make a video, absorb your cash and disappear into the night. I'm also old enough to remember the dot-bomb. Quite well, actually. As such, I imagine there is a growing legal specialty in trying to recover crowd-sourced cash from over-promising start-ups.

These are interesting times for sure. The limit to humanity is now, perhaps more than ever, tied to what we can imagine (famous last words). So keep your head about you as we reach peek start-up and beware the riderless bicycle, and maybe too many companies with adjectives for names. It's a jungle out there.