• Ferhan Bulca

    I am an executive leader and a serial intrapreneur focused on innovation and design thinking. My purpose in life is to create products and services that make the world a better place to live in.

    In the course of my career, I have developed a deep understanding and expertise on all aspects of technology commercialization and product/service development. As a result, I have built multi-million dollar businesses from the ground up.

    I am the creator and the Lead Instructor for Business Innovation Certificate Program at University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.

    I offer business consulting services and I am available as a speaker for private and public events.

    Watch my recent talk at Ashoka Canada's Changemakers event at University of Toronto on YouTube.

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Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Launch

This is the fourth posting in my series of “Five Steps to Technology Commercialization.” Earlier, I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). The key objectives of Launch phase are:

  • Learning from market response
    Customers will quickly respond to many decisions you have made until you decided put your product (either an early prototype or the final product) in front of customers. This is the best time to test all your assumptions (eg., features, pricing, distribution) and modify as needed. It is strongly recommended that you incorporate multiple launch phases rather than one “big bang” approach. Each of your launches should be designed to learn specific lessons to guide the remainder of your activities.
  • Creating awareness while building delivery capability
    Awareness building has to be done both with internal resources (marketing & sales) and external entities (customers, distribution channels). Creating both pull (customers) and push (sales) requires effort and time. Multiple launch phases, each aimed at a different group, are the recommended approach. Early adopters will help you jump over the chasm (a la Geoffrey Moore). This phase is the perfect time to start building relations with your customers and generating early sales. Early adopters are a different breed of customers, that you will need to nourish and learn from.
  • Identify key performance indicators (KPIs)
    Real market interaction is the best time to start building your KPIs, which you will use to make decisions later on. As I will cover in the next step, Monitor, your business success depends on what you measure and how you respond when they go out of your “ideals.” Launch phase is a good time to experiment with different sets of KPIs and decide which set provides you with the most complete picture of how your business is doing.

Here is how you achieve these objectives:

  1. Incorporate multiple launch phases into your plan
  2. Define what you intend to learn and how you intend to do it for each phase
  3. Create a quick-response culture, modify per market response
  4. Engage customers early on to create relevant leads and convert them to sales
  5. Build and optimize operational capability (production, sales, service, support, maintenance)
  6. Manage partnerships (if any)

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

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Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Development

This is the third posting in my series of “Five Steps to Technology Commercialization.” Earlier, I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). The key objectives of Development phase are:

  • Validate whether your target market(s)  care about your product/service, i.e., your value proposition
    In the earlier steps, you made assumptions about your target market(s) and their unmet needs. During Development, use opportunities to collect feedback from customers on features, functionality, aesthetics, form, fit, etc.
  • Validate your market penetration strategy
    Similarly, incorporate experiments into your Development phase to test your market penetration strategy. Do your marketing & sales assumptions work on a small scale? Can you attract a few enthusiastic early adopters?
  • Develop the right product/service
    It is easy to get your head down and develop (i.e., design, code, build). Instead, keep it iterative with structured customer and market feedback to identify what is important and what is nice-to-have.

Here is how you achieve these objectives:

  1. Identify key technologies and skills for the product.
  2. Decide on developing or buying necessary technologies.
  3. Define production, service and support strategies
  4. Develop the product and validate it against technical and market requirements
  5. Collect as much customer feedback as possible and pivot, if necessary

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Go-To-Market Strategy

This is the second posting in my series of “Five Steps to Technology Commercialization.” Earlier, I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it).

Similar to designing your business, this step needs to be completed before you embark on development. The key objectives of articulating your Go-To-Market Strategy are:

  • Articulate why your target market(s)  care about your product/service, i.e., your value proposition
    The importance of this step is obvious to many people but it is difficult to actually do it. Putting yourself in the shoes of your target customers and thinking like them require effort. It is not a do-it-yourself-at-your-spare-time activity.
  • Specify your market penetration strategy and articulate how you intend to do so
    Many people develop top-down market estimates, which look like this: “Global market is $X billion, my geographic target is $Y hundred million, I will capture very conservatively 1%, resulting in a $Z million market.” I’d rather see a bottom-up approach: “There are X thousand organizations that could use my product/service, each spends $Y on my product/service and takes D days to make their purchasing decisions. I am budgeting Z full-time-equivalent sales people in my financial forecast. As a result, I will target so-many dollars in my first, second and third years.” This approach helps you identify how you penetrate the market with realistic assumptions.  
  • Design your market penetration experiments to validate them
    Everything you have done so far is based on assumptions. Specify small, quick and cheap experiments to validate as many of them as possible early on. Some of these experiments can only be done when you have prototypes, some earlier. If you know who you will sell to and how they will buy (see earlier steps), you can design your validation experiments without ambiguity. 
  • Develop financial forecasts
    Financial forecasts help you in two ways:
    • Understand your cash flow situation – While you are creating your financial forecast, you are forced to make assumptions about your fixed and variable expenses. Write down your assumptions and monitor them when you move to later phases of commercialization.
    • Establish financial targets – Yes, your forecasts are just guesses but they also set targets for you. If you cannot generate the revenue you forecasted, you have to take action. If you do generate more revenue (fast growth), you need to take action. If your fixed or variable expenses are different from what you forecasted, you need to take action. I guess you understand what I am trying to say here. Your “estimates” become your targets in operations.

Here is how you achieve these objectives:

  1. Create industry map(s) for target markets and plan actions to penetrate them.
  2. Self and competitor analyses (tools like SWOT, Five-Forces help).
  3. Definition of product and process requirements for target markets. Product/service requirements and mapping those requirements to the key features that your target customers want/need.
  4. Validation of (1) & (2) through early proof of concepts & market contact.
  5. Pricing and marketing strategy. It is hard to get your pricing right the first time around. Think of it early on and check out market reaction.
  6. Financial forecast (3- to 5-year) model. It is best to prepare the first year monthly, the rest quarterly. Anything beyond year-three is a wild guess but do it now and modify when and if you ever make to your forth year.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Real-Life Examples for my Commercialization Process

Innovation Factory in Hamilton published my blog post, where I discuss real-life development and commercialization examples for the Go-To-Market Strategy phase of my process.  The examples are from my personal experience, which helped me shape up my Commercialization Process. You may read the post here.

Hope you enjoy it.

Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Business Design

In an earlier blog post, where I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). This posting is the first of a series of postings, where I will address each step of my commercialization framework.

I will assume that when you start this exercise, you already have a technology in mind. In other words, you have a hammer and you are looking for a nail to hammer in. Many people may argue that having a solution in mind is not the ideal way to get started but this is the case most of the time. So, rather than ignoring a fact, let’s learn to make the best of it.

The first step is Business Design and I strongly recommend you start here before jumping into development. Here is a quick to-do list at this step:

  1. Identify 2-3 target markets and their unfulfilled needs
    • Identify, as specifically as you can, an unmet and recognized need in 2-3 markets.
    • Prioritize target markets and identify your top target
    • Specifically articulate the unfulfilled need of your top target
  2. Identify key functions/features to address the unfulfilled needs and assess existing products, including yours, against these key functions/features
  3. Define business model(s) for each of the target markets
    • Business case (why this business should exist?)
    • Eco-system definition (in which the business will exist)
    • How would you make money?
  4. Define potential business structures to tackle the needs of the target markets (eg. partnerships, joint ventures, IP licensing, etc.)
  5. Identify key functions & activities your business and partners, if any, need to do
  6. Identify financing options for potential business structures and assess feasibility
  7. Identify key skills your business will need and create a simple organization structure to define how these people would operate (yes, even a start-up needs one)

That’s about it. The most popular tool to put this all together is the Business Model Canvas, which you can find here.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Enterprises are Critical for the Success of Innovation Hubs

A while ago, I posted an article on the role of large organizations in innovation and argued that large organizations had particular advantages to develop innovative solutions, only if they knew how to utilize those advantages.

Recently, the Global Innovation Index 2013 was published. This year’s edition focused on the local dynamics of innovation. In the report, Chapter 4 titled The Role of Enterprise Champions in Strengthening Innovation Hubs attracted my attention. The authors of the chapter argue that innovation hubs take 15-30 years of sustained public-private collaboration to become effective. The authors conclude the chapter with the following statement: “With [enterprise] champions, the odds of creating a successful innovation hub rise significantly; without them, the odds of failure are almost certain.”

I thought this chapter provided an elegant complement to my earlier argument. Large organizations (enterprises) have a lot going for them when it comes to creating innovative solutions. Unfortunately, they also have to weather strong internal headwinds to be successful in implementing innovation. Innovation hubs intend to fill this gap but I am yet to see a successful example. The problem is the “white space” between innovation hubs and enterprises. Ideally, there should be a small overlap between the needs and capabilities of hubs and enterprises. In reality, there is a gap, which I call the “white space”, between the needs and capabilities. And, this gap is creating a huge barrier for effective collaboration.

Under government funding and support, innovation hubs are trying to fill the gap but there is a role for enterprises to actively pursue the same. One-sided push is not effective. It is time for enterprises to start investing into bridging the gap, creating skill centres and capabilities to interface with innovation hubs.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share and like this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

A Framework for Commercialization at Startups & Large Organizations

If I saved a penny every time somebody told me that they were developing (or have developed) the next big thing, I would be, well, better off. 

I always appreciate the enthusiasm and passion in people who dedicated their energy to develop the product they believe in. Then, I start with my standard list of questions:

  • What problem does your product solve?
  • Who cares about solving this problem?
  • Are they willing to pay for the solution? Can they afford it? How much would they pay?
  • What is your business model? How does it work?
  • How do you plan to go to market? Who are your early adopters? Why did you choose them?
  • So on so forth…

Actually, most of the time, the answer to the first question is a laundry list of things the product could do. Not specific, not targeted, but a list of things customers could do with this great product. I can barely go beyond the second or third question before the person’s eyes glaze over or they tell me that they will figure out the answers once development is done and they get to market.

This scenario repeated itself enough times and with both entrepreneurs and large organizations that I decided to put together the following framework for implementing innovative solutions and commercializing them.

Innovation Cycle Framework

Commercialization Framework

As the diagram indicates, business is a never-ending cycle. Those who learn how to constantly improve their capabilities and remain relevant to markets stay in business. Others (hopefully) quickly or, in many cases, slowly go into oblivion.

So, if you are an entrepreneur hoping to build a business around your idea or an intrapreneur bringing the next line of business in an organization, where do you start? I aim to answer this question with the above framework:

  1. Business Design
    Start here! Before embarking on development, identify the problem you intend to solve – SPECIFICALLY! Find out who suffers from the problem the most and whether or not they are willing to pay someone to make it go away. Then, at least create a cursory understanding of how you would make money delivering this solution.
  2. Go-To-Market Strategy
    Next, give some thought to how you would penetrate the market you identified in Step 1. How do you plan to penetrate target markets and how do you plan to attract their attention? Who is that particular person you need to get on your side? Do you know what they care about, how they make their decisions, what constraints (eg. regulatory, budget cycles) they have to deal with?
  3. Development
    OK, now go for development. And, develop to impress those targets you identified in step 2, not the whole world. And, validate your product quickly and as cheaply as possible. Identify the key features your targets care about and get it into their hands early. Find out what works and what wows your customers. Get their feedback before investing much effort, time and money into the nitty gritty details of product development.
  4. Launch
    This is where you go for a bigger splash. Chances are you do not want to launch to the whole world at once. What will your cycles look like? Do you have a solid sales process and plan? How do you learn from market response and how do you act?
  5. Monitor
    You can only improve what you monitor and you cannot monitor everything. Choice of what matters to your business and creating appropriate business intelligence infrastructure is hard work. Many entrepreneurs think that this step only applies to large organizations and they do not need to worry about it. ABSOLUTELY WRONG! If you do not monitor how your business is doing, you will never succeed in the following cycles.

This brings me to the last point I want to make: business is a continuous learning and adapting exercise. The job is not finished when the product gets to market, it is just starting. I have successfully used this framework both for brand-new commercialization and for iterative improvements. I hope it helps you too.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

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