September 15, 2010

Good Customers

Here’s something I read in a blog post by Esther Dyson, where she describes a visit to Russia in which she was asked for advice on how to spur innovation in the country:

In fact, I started my discussion with Russia's government leaders by talking about my experiences as chair of NASA's Innovation and Technology advisory committee. The issue, I said, was not really about funding technology innovation; it is how to create a culture that rewards thoughtful innovation and considers mistakes the price of learning. Another requirement is good customers — that is, customers who are willing to pay good money for good products and good services, who are willing to try out new things that show promise and to give feedback, and who are unwilling to take bribes.

One of the really interesting things I’ve noticed about Apple-created markets ever since I had my first Macintosh LC in the early 1990’s is that they attract consumers who think that good user experiences are worth paying money for—an easy belief for Apple to select for, since one has to have it to buy an Apple product in the first place.

This belief isn’t the case so much in the PC world, or at least it didn’t use to be; when I came to my first Mac from a PC and browsed the troves of third-party software, I was befuddled by how many of them expected me to actually pay for them. This “culture shock” became even more acute in late 2007, when I switched from Windows to OS X and found the same thing—only this time it was a welcome change, with a few exceptions.

From Dyson’s perspective, was I simply an un-civil consumer in the early 1990’s, spoilt by the notion that getting a mediocre experience for free was better than paying for a well-designed one? I believe the strength of Apple’s platforms today has something to do with it, and it’s an interesting question to ask of any potential marketplace: what do your particular customers value enough to pay good money for?

© Atul Varma 2020