> Another example is business productivity apps architected as web services. Early products like Salesforce were easier to access and cheaper to maintain than their on-premise counterparts. Modern productivity apps like Google Docs, Figma, and Slack focus on things you simply couldn’t do before, like real-time collaboration and deep integrations with other apps.
I'm not sure I'd consider any of these brand new things, even in the context of cloud nativity. CSCW works in particular go back to the mid-80s! They aren't new things, but iterations on old things -- the iterative gap is so large that they _feel_ new, but the changes they provided improved accessibility to existing functionality, not innovative new functionality.
- Networked CRMs were preceded by so, so many database frontends.
- Google Docs was bought-not-made, and its components were also preceded by peer-to-peer collaborative editing tools outside of the web browser (SubEthaEdit, but also Instant Update, Aspects, and other early 90s/00s groupware suites).
- Collaborative drawing and design software go all the way back to Xerox PARC projects like Videodraw.
Presumably DOTB and DBNT should be pitched to investors -- and funded -- in very different ways.
Doing old things better is very amenable to metrics, lifetime value of customer, market-adoption forecasts, cost of customer acquisition, etc. This is the land of venture money with milestones and ever-growing rounds as success unfolds. (Or asphyxiation if success doesn't happen.)
Doing brand new things probably is far more likely to start via bootstrapping, passion projects, university research and other areas where open-ended curious inquiry is tolerated better. Dixon (OP) loosely acknowledges this when he writes that entrepreneurs "usually spend many years deeply immersed in the underlying technology before they have their key insights."
Eventually the path forward will be clear enough that the VC/metrics folks can show up for later financing rounds and do their thing. But I'll argue that venture's metrics-driven feed-or-starve system is more likely to mess up this early exploration than to help it.
Even though VCs will insist that they are equally good at both.
"The most common mistake people make when evaluating new technologies is to focus too much on the “doing old things better” category."
While I get what they're driving at, I think there are good reasons to focus on this; you have some plausible chance of getting it right. The track record of people, even really smart people who work in technology, being able to predict the 'brand new things' that technology will be used for, is awful. Plus, if you want to get the technology up and running, it needs to get used for something old (better) first. If the early moviemakers hadn't made play-like movies first, they might never have learned enough about film to make movies that weren't like that.
Just because the early uses of a technology are doing old things better, but the later brand new things turn out to be a bigger deal, doesn't mean the 'old things better' phase was a mistake. It is probably necessary.
I used to wonder why there's always a constant flood of new new technologies, frameworks, products, etc. instead of improvements over existing solutions.
Now I believe I know why; it's about growth for the business, at all levels. New technology may give the business a competitive edge but more importantly it will give the developers who created it as well as those who learn it, a career boast.
This is why we get things like software updates for a UI that no one asked for.
In the end, the core idea is that "good enough" is never enough. Because improvements, not maintenance, drive careers forward.
Also known as sustaining innovation vs disruptive innovation.
When you’re embedded in a technology or business it’s harder to come up with something totally new, your perspective is often limited by your situation (everything is a nail when you have a hammer). As something brand new can also be damaging to the current business model, it feels uncomfortable.
Often you need somebody with the right mix of experience and independence (plus enough capital) to create something truly disruptive.
You can market your end results as an old thing, but if it's ever the case that you aren't introducing a thing new to that market, you have a speculative hot potato, not a good business. If the neighborhood already has five boba shops, the sixth one that opens is facing a lot of competition.
Which in some respects doesn't mean you have to be innovative at any point, just well timed and positioned. Underserved niches often love "more of the old stuff" if it brings back something they thought was lost. And bringing back the old stuff can be a gamble just as much as doing a groundbreaking thing; in that case, having a way of doing it better is a great derisk.
Search Engine, Smartphone, Digital Cameras, PCs what else? All of the leader in those categories were Doing Old Things Better.
It wasn't about Doing Old or New. It was simply about the timing and Roadmap. Apple Newton had all the right idea, but the technology was far from ready and 15 years ahead of its time.
Netflix? Remember there was a War between Windows Media, MPEG and RealVideo before the days of Flash Video Streaming?
To me, doing new things is Invention. Doing old things better is innovation. At the end of the day, all it matter if there is enough Value creation, it seems to me DOTB or DBNT is the wrong question to ask.
What are some examples in the DBNT category that created unicorn startups? I know lots of DBNT that happened inside of large companies (e.g. Bell Labs). What are some examples of cases where the companies were able to create massive market share from scratch?
Common examples of DBNT were really just DOTB:
Google -> not the first search engine
Apple -> not the first computer/music player/touch phone
Sometimes you just have to copy what worked for someone else in their venture and apply it to your own venture. I know that the world tells us that we need to be original; that we need to come up with new ideas to apply to our lives, careers and businesses; that we are special. However, I believe that sometimes, we can achieve tremendous success not by trying to come up with new ideas but by leveraging ideas that have already been tested by someone else.