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Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Last Lone Inventor Returns


Today I met with a friend to talk about a few topics: Our progress at Sonian; our mutual passion for carrier-grade service architectures; and his new start up which is building a very interesting hardware/software VoIP offering for the consumer and SOHO market.

I was intrigued how a relatively small team of bright engineers and creative marketers was going to design, build, distribute and support a consumer focused VoIP product in less than eighteen months. The answer I found out is there is a whole world of best of breed outsource manufacturing, supply chain management and technical support services available to start ups who want to build the next great device. And for which no factories have to be built, warehouses maintained, or support centers staffed to launch the product. Building and distributing a hardware device no longer requires the resources of a GE or Dell.

Which leads me to the title of this post and the reason for writing. Evan Schwartz, in his book The Last Lone Inventor, which is the fascinating story about Philo T. Farnsworth and the invention of television, tells the tale of a genius inventor who figured out how to make television work when all the other parallel efforts by others to create TV were failing. Ultimately RCA squashed the genius and stole the patents, and during this era (1940's) we can see a shift in where innovation was originating. It was no longer economically feasible for a "lone inventor" to create anything substantial. The future innovations would be developed by engineers working in big corporate laboratories.

Well times our changing. It's now possible for the solo or small team innovator to create great things by leveraging the resources of specialized business that have figured out how to make money basically "taking care of the details" and nuances of building electronics.

Amazon Web Services is the Internet's version of this same concept. Amazon has figured out there is great potential in being the "factory" to co-create the next wave of Internet innovations.

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