The Digital Camera That Drowned My Dad’s Business

I was fifteen when I first saw a digital camera.

I was out with my dad for a client visit and one of his customers showed him the newly arrived range of cameras that had just hit the market. It was grey and was made up of sturdy plastic. It had a small lens and a flash unit on the front and a small LCD screen on the rear side. There were a whole bunch of buttons to change the settings, view previously shot images and zoom them if necessary. There was no Lithium-ion battery, so the only alternatives were the commercially available AA batteries or expensive rechargeable Nickel – Cadmium batteries.

The shopkeeper said, “The resolution of the camera is 1.2 Megapixels and it can store up to 200 photos.”

But my dad was not impressed.  He asked the client “How much does it cost?”

The client said “Around Rs.12,000”

My dad said “Nobody would pay that much to take photos. How many pictures will they take! A normal use and throw camera that sells for Rs.500 will do the job”

When we walked out of the client’s place, I asked him “Dad! Why don’t we sell those digital cameras? I think it will be a hit.”

He replied saying “Digital cameras are just fancy. Nothing can beat film cameras”.

Being a photo album and frames distributor and salesman, my dad couldn’t accept the fact that digital photos are the future. He never thought in the next ten years people will be obsessed with taking pictures and billion-dollar companies would be built around them.

He strongly believed that people would use film cameras, print their photos and cherish them by putting it in an album or a frame. He was right, but not for long.

By the time I was seventeen, the photo album sales fell drastically and my dad was out of business. The photo album market that was flourishing for several decades took a hit due to the rise of affordable digital cameras and computers.

The stocks in our warehouse went nowhere and my dad was at home wondering what went wrong. But, I knew what went wrong. The market started evolving and his business was not.

The rise in technological advancements and the quick adoption rates among customers is rapidly changing the way businesses function. Businesses are pushed to a position where they need to think beyond sales and distribution. They are in a position to constantly look for market trends to stay afloat. 

Let’s take a look at a few cases about companies that had the best and worst from forseeing the market. 

The ‘Nokia’ Problem

For a very long time, Nokia was the undisputed champion in the global mobile market. 

People would buy anything made by Nokia as the brand was known for its reliability and performance. But, Nokia failed to play the catch up game when it came to smartphones. 

But, Samsung came up with their range of Corby smartphones that were attractive and affordable. When the entire market was waiting for Nokia to launch a cool smartphone to compete with Corby, Nokia continued to sell new variants of their feature phones.

Within the next couple of years, Samsung went a step ahead and started selling phones with a new open source operating system, Android. It offered customization, performance, and a great user experience. The success of Android phones increased Samsung’s market share globally. 

Now, users who wanted to buy an Android phone were waiting for Nokia to release their version of the Android device. But the company did not make one. In the meantime, Samsung was far ahead in the race.

To compete with Samsung and other players like Apple (that released iPhone during 2007), Nokia partnered with Microsoft in 2011 to sell Lumia, phones with Windows mobile operating systems.

When the entire customer base was waiting for an Android powered Nokia smartphone, the company went to build and sell windows phones. 

Result? 

By 2013, Nokia fell from #1 position to #10 in smartphone sales. In 2012, When Apple shipped 26 million iPhones and other makers shipped 105 million Android Phones, Nokia was able to ship only 6.8 million Symbian devices and 5.4 million Windows phones. This had a huge impact on the company. By the end of 2013, the company laid off 24,500 employees.

Chris Weber, head of Nokia’s subsidiary in the U.S. said that “The reality is if we’re not successful with Windows phones, it doesn’t matter what we do elsewhere”.

By the end of 2014, the company’s brand value fell to 98th place.

In 2016, the Nokia branded smartphone business came under HMD global that started selling Android-based Nokia phones since 2017. 

The ones who had Forseen

There are numerous companies that evolved with the market in successful ways. Google is a great example. The company was closely following the launch of smartphones and clearly understood that the future is mobile. When the time was right, the company acquired Android, an open source operating system for mobile phones. Now, Android runs on more than 80% of the smartphones used all over the world. 

Another good example of a predictor is Elon Musk who constantly identify upcoming trends and ride the wave. He started his journey with Zip2, a web software that licensed online city guide to newspapers. He later pivoted to creating a payments company (PayPal), an electric car company (Tesla) and a company that manufactures reusable rockets (SpaceX). 

His constant look out for market trends is what made him successful. 

Forseeing the Future

When I look back, I see several similarities between my dad’s business and Nokia. They both believed in their products and thought that it would take too long for the new trend to pick up. But, when things started changing rapidly, they couldn’t play catch up.  

In today’s world, business owners should think like Nostradamus.

They should think beyond what they’re today and should start thinking about what they will become tomorrow. On one side businesses should keep implementing new technologies to please their customers like establishing online stores; Providing the latest payment methods like UPI, Cash on Delivery, Easy EMI options, etc; And on the other hand watch out for new trends that could impact the sales of their goods and services.

This not only applies to businesses. It also applies to individuals. A developer who is well-versed in C and C++ at some point should reskill himself to learn the latest technologies and frameworks that power AI and machine learning tools. Forseeing the future will not only make you an early mover, but will also make you a thought leader when the industry is ripe. 

There is a saying that in business one should “Re-skill or perish”. The reskilling comes from keeping oneself updated about the latest news in the industry and the ability to see where it is headed. The final decision should be dependent on a lot of factors such as reading industry reports, expert opinions and trends in the job market. The preparation is similar to preparing to invest in stocks. You need to do enough research before going ahead with an option. 

I know it is not easy. But, if done correctly, it will pay off in a big way. 

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