Often when companies conceptualize and eventually build product, they are solving a specific problem. Founders respond to a market need by delivering a solution that often is some version of a “me too” product: a “thing” that already exists, but that leaves room for improvement. This type of development loop is often precarious because by the time a company releases a product, there is a limited product life cycle.
So how does a startup stay relevant? How do founders release a product that is meaningful for longer than a quarter? These are really questions of perception: how do we see ourselves, and how does the world see us as a result?
Ball Corporation is a great example of adaptability and appealing to a broader concept. Ball started as a canning company in 1880 producing jars (Ball Jars) for canning and also holding liquids like kerosene. Ball's financial viability was directly tied to the need for canning and as the practice of canning began to decline, Ball's revenue stream began to dry up. Ball really hit its stride around 1940 when a lawsuit in conjunction to a shrinking primary market threatened the company. Ball pivoted. They embodied a broader philosophy and became Ball container, opening up a whole range of possibilities unrelated to jars and canning. Ball was building shells such as containers for munitions and packaging for food-containers among a host of other products. Eventually, Ball's newfound expertise in retooling old equipment for new purposes drove them to diversify into Research and Development, opening the door to aerospace engineering and complex packaging.
The ability to continually adapt ensures that both a company and the company’s product remains relevant in a perpetually shifting landscape.
For Cipher Skin, adaptability came in the form of a pipe monitoring sleeve; a device that we can rapidly install around a pipe to examine for events that precipitate failure. Initially, we focused on the oil and gas market, but the enduring value of this industry specifically is questionable; oil and gas won’t always be a source of power/material production. Cipher Skin adapted and focused on the broader mission of monitoring cylinders for failure in fluid transfer. Now Cipher Skin's product is relevant to a vast array of distribution markets including what is arguably the world’s most valuable commodity long term: water.
When the Ball Corporation pivoted from being a glass jar manufacturer to being a container manufacturer, they also morphed from a product company – jars - to a solutions company - containers. Jars define a specific object that are often glass. A container is industry agnostic and can be made from literally anything. Solutions can have broad appeal and evolve over time. A product by definition is specific and each new version of a product is in fact a new product. Cipher Skin is a business built on concept. We provide an ability to monitor how a physical object interacts with the world around it in real time.
The Cipher Skin concept lends itself to a company providing the solution of failure prediction. No specific market, no specific form-factor.
The focus for any company should be longevity. Not a week or a month but years and decades. Finding stability, and reaching profitability requires time.
Becoming more valuable as a company requires time. Adaptability ensures that as long as a company remains in touch with customer needs and market drivers, they have the ability to produce relevant product. Concentrating on offering a solution as opposed to a product ensures broad appeal. Continuing to adapt a solution-oriented offering means a company is afforded a long enough timeline to make a real impact.
Cipher Skin is positioned to be most impactful in a future market that won’t see maturity for another six years.
Being hyper-focused on long-term impact means innovation must always be a talking point within the company. Ball leveraged its experience retooling from glass jars to general containers into an R&D division working in aerospace. There was innovation in Ball's decision to pivot; their expertise was unique and so were the tools they had available. The culmination of tooling and experience has led to more than 70 years of innovation outside of their initial industry.
When I think about companies who have survived generations of change, several standouts come to mind. The likes of GE, Philips, Ford, Simplot, Cargill, and Johnson & Johnson to name a few.
But, it’s Ball that really is top of mind for continued innovation. It’s Ball that has adapted relentlessly and continued to pivot all the way from canning in the 1800s to munitions and aerospace today.
Phillip Bogdanovich, Cipher Skin's Co-Founder and CEO