If you build it they’ll come moments

Baseball field at night being built

Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon, told analysts, “This is going to be one of those if-you-build-it-they’ll-come moments…” He was explaining at the JP Morgan Technology, Media and Telecom conference why Verizon plans to keep investing in microcells and attaching them to buildings.

It’s the same reason John Donovan told analysts at the Citi Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference why AT&T was boosting its network capacity. When network speeds get faster, new technologies spring up to consume that speed. According to Donovan, “5G is different because its performance is so much better that it’s going to enable a whole bunch of new-to-the-world use cases, whether it’s live maps, autonomous cars, virtual reality.” We are indeed witnessing an if-you-build-it-they’ll-come moment for telecom.

History is littered with the bones of companies who built products for customers who never arrived. Ever heard of the Sony Betamax, Cosmopolitan Yogurt or the Microsoft Bob? I had my experience here. Back in 2011, I had seven people working for me and some big clients like Salesforce and Harte-Hanks. At the time, I thought if we build a robot that predicted whether brands would buy mobile marketing services – then we could triple the sales of our lead data to ad networks. We built the robot, and seven months later we were out of business.

I promised myself that next time, I would build something that people wanted to buy. But how could I know beforehand? This question became my focus for a long time. Reading the transcripts last week from John Donovan and Lowell McAdam rekindled my curiosity.

I wanted to find a common thread connecting if-you-build-it-they’ll-come moments and weave it into a question for you. The idea is to ask yourself this question before you make an investment or launch a product in your current role. A question like this would help you maximize your chances of success.

To formulate this question, I began to flip back through the pages of history to study examples of inventions that succeeded. I went to Google and typed “inventions that changed the world.” Without clicking any further, I realized I had found the first clue to unlocking the pattern of success.

The internet. The internet started as a way to share information faster. The speed that files were zipping around the planet created a ripple effect that impacted other industries. Now, I type Nike running shoes into Google, and 10 minutes later they can be in a box headed for my doorstep.

I scrolled down on Google and clicked on a link from History.com, 11 innovations that changed history.

The printing press. The printing press started as a way to spread information faster. 160 years later more than 200 million books had been written. People who used to pull weeds outside of castles were now adding, subtracting and trading goods with the New World.

The compass. Before the compass, sailors navigated with the stars. What did they do if it was cloudy? With the compass, ships took less wrong turns and spices arrived from the Indies to the Old World in record time. Trade and international expansion exploded.

Paper currency. Before printed bills, people used coins. Sometimes the government would run out of coins. Imagine not being able to buy toilet paper at Walmart until more quarters were minted. Paper currency made commerce go faster. This had a ripple effect into the New World.

The domestication of the horse. What’s a cowboy without a horse? Everyone had to have one, so they could cover more terrain – faster.

The steam engine. If any invention ever made the world move faster, this would be it. The steam engine moved people and goods in record speed. This invention was essential to the Industrial Revolution.

As I was reading through these examples, a pattern came to me. The speed of these new technologies created a tidal wave of change. This tidal wave set the stage for each invention’s if-you-build-it-they’ll-come moment.

AT&T and Verizon’s moment is now. Faster cellular networks are enabling new devices like self-driving cars and smart cities. AT&T and Verizon will become even more important to the economy as they connect even more devices beyond your cellphone, TV, and internet.

Here are two questions that you can ask yourself to determine if you are in the middle of an if-you-build-it-they’ll-come moment:

1. What part of daily life will go 10X faster when my invention comes online?

2. What other aspects of daily life will go faster as a result?

The other things that go faster because of your invention are like dominos. The more dominos you can knock over, the more important your venture will be to the world economy. It’s hard to predict what your chain reaction will be. But one thing is for sure; you will need speed.

Printing books used to take a lot of time. Sailing the East Indies without a compass was a long journey. If you could find something that people value and deliver it 10X faster, you have a shot at causing a chain reaction in your wake. The size of your chain reaction will determine how many people will arrive to buy your product. When your if-you-build-it-they’ll-come moment comes, I want you to enjoy every minute of it.

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