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What do Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, Sam Altman, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? Well, non of them are from the printing industry, and all are disruptors. Not only have they created enormous wealth for themselves and their shareholders, but they have also changed the world. Being a disruptor has become synonymous with good, success, and something we want to encourage.
By Editor Morten B. Reitoft
When Microsoft was founded, neither Bill Gates nor Paul Allen, in their wildest dreams, could imagine how successful Microsoft became and how the development of Windows became a global game changer. Though Steve Jobs had a tremendous belief in himself and his abilities, I am also quite convinced that the success of the iPhone, the iPad, and now the M-series processors wasn't expected to the extent it happened. Disruption happens because of extreme creativity, vision, and ability to raise money and execute a plan but also about timing, being at the right place at the right time, and luck.
Amazing to think of, and with that in mind, you can ask yourself - can your company nurture disruption? Or will we all have to accept that good old-fashion innovation is what to expect from most companies? Or can we do better?
Of course, we can do better. Manufacturers have engineers employed, but development is still done in iterations. So, I guess companies don't even push the boundaries of their capabilities. We desire disruption, but many companies suppress development to ensure their long-term business - and the funny part is that the very reason why innovation and development aren't pushed to the max is because of the resources it would often require. The companies that disrupt the markets are typically startups led by innovative owners who challenge the current market, technology, designs, revenue- and business models.
Hint - the very same market we protect :-)
Most people see disruption as good. Businesses are envious of disruptors because they want new products and services, a competitive edge, market advantage, and the pride of being first, best and smartest. When we look at companies like Tesla and Apple, we are confident that recruitment is less of a problem, or?
So kind of strange that the large corporates don't set their engineers free and let them do as Google does - work four days on products and one day on anything they want. It's a matter of creating a culture that encourages innovation.
So don't we have disruptors in the printing industry? Before answering the question, maybe it's more important to understand what makes disruptors, disruptors!
One of the early disruptors I remember (and there have been thousands before) are Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis. In 2003 they founded Skype, and as Skype became one of the first voice-over IPs (using peer-to-peer technology), they became disruptors in its true sense. They revolutionized how we use the phone. Until VoIP, the phones were connected through a unique patch system connecting lines - demanding complex infrastructure and typically controlled by giant corporates - some even monopolies. As the Internet became widely available, telecom companies expected the Internet to live side-by-side with conventional phone services. They were wrong. Skype and VoIP changed telecommunication entirely by disrupting an entire industry. Today most people don't think about what happens when they pick up a phone or mobile or use any VoIP service, but the use of peer-to-peer has extended to music, films, to a lot of other services that we take for granted. So, a disruptor introduces new products and services that outperform existing solutions. Elon Musk and Tesla didn't invent the electric vehicle, space travel, boring tunnels, satellite communication, or even Hyperloops. Still, by introducing new ways of producing and bringing these products to market, Elon Musk has disrupted every competitor.
Bill Gates didn't invent operating systems, word processors, or anything else in the MS Office package, but by doing it better and smarter, Microsoft became the defacto standard. To win the market, don't forget how Bill Gates and Microsoft strong-armed the PC vendors to use his software from Windows to Internet Explorer, MS Office, and other software solutions and became the largest IT company in history!
Steve Jobs didn't invent portable MP3 players. He just did it WAY better than anybody else in the market, and doing so when the Internet became so good that it could easily transfer MP3 files, the online venture of iTunes and App Store took Apple to the sky. The rest is history - and yes, Apple, Microsoft, and even Google are probably not disruptors the same way they were when they were established, but disruption took them to where they are!
So this leads to the question, are there any disruptors in the printing industry? And the answer is a bit - sort of. The big manufacturers - none mentioned, none forgotten - are not disruptors. They are innovative and create amazing products, but they are not disrupting the print market. Even companies like Landa, Scodix, and Highcon are not disrupting the markets, though all three (to mention a few) are smart and innovative and might be seen as such. When Landa introduced nanography, it could have been a disruptor. Imagine how the print would look today if most of the production were moved to a digital printing platform leaving virtually all competitors years behind? It would have been a dramatic change, and I believe many PSPs, consultants, analysts, media, and competitors anticipated or feared that to happen. Now, the situation is entirely different; nobody really fears nanography, as the market has developed solutions to face that competition. Of course, a new disruptor at some point will take a hit on our industry. It's important to understand that disruptors come out of the blue. The best thing a company can do is always listen, learn, develop, evaluate, repurpose, and understand the market and your customers' needs.
Will nanography become a disruptor at some point? No. It will not. Time has gone by, and the next potential disruptor will have the current time and technology as the basis for new and innovative technology!
Hopefully, for the PSPs investing in Landa and for Landa, the technology will develop into a solid investment with high returns, but the market has changed entirely. Customer demand is maybe on par with what Benny Landa rightfully identified, but the competition has developed products and services that compete with what was a disruptor at the time.
So, do I see disruption in our industry? No. I see many very clever people inventing creative solutions but no disruptors per the definition above. I see companies challenging the existing market by offering innovative solutions, and I would like to mention a few - please fill in the gaps!
Crispy Mountain, today Zaikio, has some very clever people onboard. But with the ownership of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, the company can, from my point of view, NEVER fulfill its full potential. The fact that Heidelberger Druckmaschinen owns Zaikio will be the biggest show-stopper. Not because there is anything wrong with Heidelberger Druckmaschinen (in this context) but because the data that Zaikio will get from PSPs using the platform can't belong to a competitor - so Zaikio is a company what COULD have become an almost disruptor in my mind.
The second company that has done something extraordinary is Tilia Labs. The founders, Sagen De Jonge and Scott More developed an imposition, planning, and costing solution that outperformed the more conventional solutions—now owned by Esko. I am not sure the disruptive potential can be released in a conglomerate of solutions in a company the size of Esko, but this is once again an example of a company that couldn't become big enough on its own. If the large companies and our industry want disruption, the industry will need to fund startups to explore the potential.
I am sure many companies have people looking for opportunities. An example is DURST in Brixen, Italy. Besides developing and producing excellent technology, they also have an investment component. Startups and others can apply for funding of projects, and by keeping these outside DURST, they, in my mind, develop an environment for innovation without limiting themselves to the current development of products and services.
If we want disruptors, we need access to capital!
Another game-changer is, in my mind, Cloudprinter.com. The company bridges production across the world with customers with global needs. This a very well-identified need and accurate to the current megatrends. However, as much as I love this company, it's not a disruptor because it is difficult to scale the business fast enough. The issues range from customer understanding and adoption to the fact that software companies understand software but lack the knowledge of print - and often the other way around. I hope they will fix that, as that will be a huge enabler for the solution in my mind!
These are just a few examples of companies and individuals on the vendor side. On the PSP side, I have met SO many intelligent people, and I honestly believe that some of the PSPs will be the ones that will either request solutions from vendors to enable their disruptive business or develop solutions themselves rather than waiting for the market.
During the pandemic, we did some webinars. During a session with Ingo Raab from Burda Media (a huge publisher in Germany), he explained how they developed their own inkjet solution to support a business case. They could not find an off-the-shelf solution to give them the needed output, and I have heard it with many PSPs.
An example is Rotomail in Milan, Italy. They have developed an end-to-end solution for books called Bronte. The software eliminates the pre-press department entirely as the entire process, from pricing to file handling, imposition, pre-flights, and delivery to print and binding equipment, is 100% automated. They couldn't find a solution to deliver, so they developed their own and are now selling it to similar companies globally.
Another first-mover I would like to mention is Schur Pack in Germany. We made a super nice film from there, showing a fully automated high-bay warehouse and AGVs that bring substrates, plates, die-cutting forms, etc., to and from the machines. Schur Pack is claimed to be one of the world's most automated printing companies. How they implemented new technology was a great inspiration, but still not disruptive.
Disruptors are not needed in all industries. Most industries probably don't even have disruptors and still grow, develop, and outperform competitors. So when we want disruptors and see people like Elon Musk as a beacon, it's because we want to be the disruptor, not the one being disrupted.
When I interview leaders in the industry, I often ask them about competition, and all say that competition is excellent and healthy. Look at your business. Don't forget to look at your competitors, but ask your customers about their needs and how they see the market developing.
Maybe stress your company's development cycles and push the envelope further. I would, however, always keep an eye on the disruptors, regardless of which industry, because we can all learn and find inspiration. Though Elon Musk is still high on the list of disruptors, I asked my 18-years old son about Elon Musk - and he is, according to him - not even on the radar for the young ones. Now it's the next generation of disruptors on the top list. People like Samuel Altman will be one of the most thought-after leaders in the following years. He and his company OpenAI has, already a shareholder value of 20 billion dollars and is by far the company in the world that reached one million subscribers the fastest. OpenAI is the developer of ChatGBT, Dall-E, and Codex and partnered with companies such as RunwayML and Descript to implement their technology in text and video. Microsoft made a direct investment into OpenAI of a billion dollars. The next generation of disruptors is already on its way, and the technology they develop moves the boundaries so much. If you are in management, you MUST test the above solutions to understand this and the implications for your business.
INKISH will follow up on both OpenAI and other disruptors, and we will also implement some of this new technology so that these things can be seen and tested on INKISH.NEWS and INKISH.TV.
Stay curious. Be VERY alert and aware. When you see what ChatGBT is capable of, you will never revert to the previous time. I am pretty confident!
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