Nobuo Yamato | President & CEO (Co-founder) Vstone Co.,Ltd.
Vstone Company Limited, founded in 2000, is dedicated to conducting research, designing, manufacturing, and selling electronic and optical devices and software products. Vstone is known as an innovative manufacturing company, working on a wide range of market segments such as education, research and development and, personal interests. Vstone is a pathfinder in the robotics industry and a two-legged robot is one of the flagship products they have developed.
If I have an idea, I make it into a certain shape and put it on the table for anyone to see. This is how I have been spending my time and energy in technology commercialization until today. Almost all products in the current marketplaces have been improved to achieve more consistent quality or to have more functions based on a variety of clients’ needs assessment surveys. The so-called market-oriented approach has brought such a result to us.
However, we would like to embrace a product-oriented approach to create new market opportunities and think of it as “our innovation.” Needless to say no one has seen or touched new technologies and innovative products, not to mention made use of them. Needless to say, it is impossible to apply marketing theories and knowledge to them, simply because there is no market segment for them. The more creative and advancing the product is, the more impossible it is to conduct marketing. If we asked future customers a question about products that do not exist at this time, we would acknowledge a high level of uncertainty in product development.
I believe that we should not discuss whether or not we can sell a product before developing it. All we do is to build something, play with it, refine it, and put it into marketplace. It is an early model of product. It does not need to be a completed product. Prototyping reduces the risk of the cost of goods manufactured. We conduct market research because we measure the risk of the investment in the product, don’t we? We also will be able to get a customer’s response from prototype if we do that. To put it another way, prototyping is considered to be a risk assessment tool.
I have developed Tetsujin 28, which is one of the most famous robot characters in Japan, and priced it at JPY400,000 in 2005. Because it was a famous character, I have thought that there was little risk of the commercialization compared with any robot with brand new design. However, I have faced the cost problem when I completed the development of its prototype. More costs have been incurred than I thought when I began to develop it. With spending a certain amount of time in the risk and opportunity assessment, I made a decision to adopt the crowd funding method – a collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Our idea was: Those who desire to have Tetsujin 28 pay as a part of the sales price, and we allocate the payment to a part of the working capital that should be spent in the development. There is no alpha or beta version of the robot at hand, but give us your money – who is going to pay? The truth was that lots of people had an interest in the robot and paid for it. It was the biggest success. I believe that a real innovation has occurred in the process of the commercialization of Tetsujin 28.
Another interesting example is a robot with timer for fast food Japanese noodles. This robot continues to talk to those who are waiting for the fast food noodles. After three minutes, it stopped talking. It sounds like: Your food was prepared to eat. I stopped talking. Enjoy the hot noodles. A timer typically functions in order to announce that three minutes have passed. However, for this case I have supported a different point of view based on human emotion.
I have been working with those who are big on creating something until today. I also have kept talking to him or her that I would like him or her to create what he or she likes and provided him or her with a working environment that allows him or her to achieve his or her own goals. My job is to give a specific meaning to what he or she created in order to put it into the marketplace. Things that people valued as innovation have the power to create new market segments. This is the creative innovation of which I am in pursuit.