Finding the Way to AI: Customer Discovery
By Ben Dyer
Last week your author had discussions with a Fortune 500 executive in search of AI support for meaningful innovations in his enterprise and with a Georgia Tech Professor responsible for helping Southern Company find the electricity to power Georgia’s growth and to adapt to EV’s and home power storage devices. Both are examples of the grand challenges that await the dedicated skill sets of AI engineers and entrepreneurs.
Coincidentally, the Wall St. Journal this week (October 23) has a leading story about a Georgia Tech student suspending his formal education in favor of heading to Silicon Valley to become part of the AI development community. He thinks there’s more value to learning as a doer than as a student of doing. And more money! There’s plenty of precedent for that; I was in the room when Bill Gates and Paul Allen were creating Microsoft in Albuquerque, NM. Other great stories come to mind like Steve Jobs and Michael Dell and much more recently our own Chris Klaus. As an active GT alum, I do hope the young man abandoning his classwork will share his future fortune with the Institute’s many worthy fundraising opportunities.
On the topic of customer discovery, there’s no better source than the examples in the first paragraph above. When you find a company with resources, defined needs, and a great incentive to acquire technology services, there’s your demand. Now your problem to solve is matching your core skill sets to the need. You may have to adjust your resources to match the particulars of a project; your ability to recruit and motivate teams that can function well together will define your success. Your skills at organizing and delegating will also be challenged as you scale. Your primary teams can probably draw from their peer groups to assemble more specific talents and to define better what has to be developed to bring to life the desired problem solutions. Once you get embedded in a company’s planning, you should have the inside track for related innovations. And, when you become a recognized expert in whatever is your focus, you may be able to rinse and repeat your products and services for other enterprises if your source customer’s IP is carefully protected.
Those of you who know me may have heard my story about serendipity leading me to a major opportunity in the 80’s. Having a customer self-discover you as a vendor/partner is the best of all worlds. My company of that era developed technology to display high resolution color images for PCs of the day. Prior to that we only had green screens to create crude graphics. I took my demo to a computer show in Washington, DC, and Rupert Murdoch’s senior executive for new products appeared in front of me, took one quick look, and said on the spot: “You’ve got exactly what I want.” Of course, I said “yes I do” — not having any idea what he had in mind. The next day I went to NYC to NewsCorp’s offices and came home with a contract. A few years later we sold the company to Mr. Murdoch. The back story was that NewsCorp owned the major print publications in the travel industry and had conceived the idea of displaying lodging and destinations in living color on the new PCs coming available. We had the missing piece of the puzzle.
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And find a few links below for selected interesting articles on AI.
Ben Dyer is best known as the founding CEO of Peachtree Software and has been responsible for numerous startups in both Atlanta and Austin ranging from technology to financial services. He is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the ATDC at Georgia Tech and spent 7 years in starting in 2011 in similar roles at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a prolific writer and has written many hundreds of blog posts on entrepreneurial topics. Among numerous honors, he is a member of the Georgia Technology Hall of Fame.