When Technology Struggles to Find a Solution

In the wake of Zite’s success and sale to CNN a few month ago, Zite founder Ali Davar made an interesting comment at the meshwest conference earlier this week when he said the company spent “five years in start-up hell” as it searched for a solution to take advantage of its technology.

For Zite, it was the emergence of the iPad that finally delivered the platform the window of opportunity. When asked how Zite was able to last so long before the iPad came along, he said having a low burn rate was a key consideration.

Having worked for a startup that fell into the “technology looking for a solution” category, Zite was lucky to have been able to hang on for so long until the iPad became its salvation.

For many startups, however, this scenario doesn’t work out as well. Instead, they spin their wheels for too long in the expectation it can develop a service that will resonate with users. In the startup in which I worked, this approach involved adding more features to provide the service with better usability. In the end, it didn’t attract enough users even though you could do a lot of things.

Putting Zite’s success aside, the reality about the “technology look for a solution” scenario is, for the most part, it doesn’t work. While the technology may be interesting and the entrepreneurs involved remain optimistic about its potential, it doesn’t matter much unless the technology can be leveraged in some way.

This isn’t to suggest this type of technology should be ignored or an attempt shouldn’t be made to capitalize on it, but startups need to determine fairly quickly whether something interesting enough can be developed to get the technology into the hands of people.


A Smart Bear has a good post on how a bad idea can eventually resonate as it evolves into something people actually want to use.

- TechRepublic also has a post on the technology looking for a solution scenario. It suggests the solution is to “continually ask yourself what problem the technology is solving, and if the cure is better than the disease.”

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  • Jason Cohen

    Thanks for the mention.

    The trouble with tech-looking-for-biz is that whether or not there is a biz to be found, and found before you run out of money, you’ve left to chance.

    Whereas if you engineer a company first, then design tech around that, you’ve eliminated as much risk as possible. Which is to say, not as much as you’d like. :-)

    • Mark Evans


      Thanks for the comment. I’m a big fan of your blog so happy to cite it. cheers, Mark

  • Robert Lendvai

    Hi Mark. I’ve also been involved with a couple of startups that could best be described as “tech looking for a solution.” In one case we thrashed about bouncing from government to healthcare then onto to banking. Compounding the problem was the fact that the technology was “middleware” which made it even a worse place to be.

    Sadly, even the VCs don’t seem to get this problem. Six months after I left the company the lead VC in this startup called me to ask my opinion of their prospects. Seems they had come back to the trough looking for a fourth round and another $3 million — that’s in addition to the $13 million already invested.

    I asked him one simple question. What’s changed? His response was classic, “well they have a new focus on pharma. — what do you think.”

    I told him. “I wouldn’t invest another $5 in that business.”

    And then there was silence. He clearly didn’t like my analysis, said thanks and hung up.

    He gave that company another $3 million and then shuttered it a few months later.

  • sudha

    Technology must be leveraged to an extent that it becomes an invention. For instance, necessity is the mother of invention and technology can be treated as its father.