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Daunting Dilemma: When Is New Technology Too New?

Making the decision to jump in is never easy -- early adopters can gain an upper hand yet must contend with far more risk.

Back in the early 1980s, I was working for a high-tech shop in Ottawa that did both PA and keyboard retail sales, along with audio installations in churches, clubs, restaurants and arenas. This was were I learned much of my selling skills. In fact, I got so good, that I quickly became the top salesperson in the operation.

It’s important to note that I was paid a base salary plus commission. I’d just won a vacation to Jamaica and was absolutely on top of the world. One day, my bosses sat me down to tell me that they had to change my salary package because I was making more money than staff that had been with the company for 20 years. I left the meeting thinking, “Hmm… maybe it’s time that I found another job.”

I was so confident (and cocky) of my sales skills, I asked myself why I was selling PA systems and not Boeing 747s? On my next day off, I drove to Kanata, the high-tech suburb of Ottawa, to seek my fortunes. As I was driving, I saw a sign that said “LASERS” and thought to myself, now that’s the future!

So I slammed on my brakes, parked, walked in the front door where I told the person behind the reception desk that I wanted a job. She said, “Hold on a minute.” Shortly, a fellow in a white lab coat came out, and I told him I wanted to sell lasers. He asked, “Do you know anything about lasers?’ I said no. He replied, “Go get educated and then come back when you do.” That’s a wake-up slap in the face.

Early Adopter?

The irony of this story is that some 15 years later, my company (Radial) signed on to be the Canadian distributor for a line of telecast fiber optics. Back then, we were manufacturing analog snakes and while doing my regular rounds at a trade show, I came across this manufacturer that could run hundreds of audio channels across a thin fiber optic cable instead of a thick, super-heavy and bulky 50-channel PVC coated twisted pair copper cable. I thought that this made too much sense and signed on. I figured five years tops and analog snakes will be replaced.

So off I went, traveling from coast to coast showing the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) and anyone else that would listen the difference between single-mode and multi-mode fiber, how to terminate it, and how to calculate losses over distances from bends, connectors and so on. Glass was the future!

Yet here we are, 25 years later, and fiber is still a relative rarity in concert touring. Talking to my buddy who’s head of audio at a major show club in Vancouver, he said that they plan to put in an analog snake when they redo the PA system later this year. Go figure.

As an early adopter, I invested a ton of cash, time and energy into developing the brand, and although we did generate some sales, they were few and far between. The cost of entry was simply too high for the average sound company and broadcasters really didn’t care all that much about audio. It’s the picture that makes money. It wasn’t too much later that Sony and others began to offer fiber connections from their cameras and this business was doomed.

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Fiber optic technology is a disruptor that’s used to transfer huge amounts of data from point A to point B while low-capacitance copper is easier to handle, does a relatively good job at transferring data over shorter distances, and is simpler to terminate. Wireless technology takes things yet a step further. When was the last time you made a hard connection to your laptop in a hotel?

Not As It Seems

Recently I was in a wine bar in Barcelona (not a bad place to be!) and started chatting with a fellow sitting next to me. He worked at Google. We discussed the high-tech sector and the amazing opportunities that lay ahead in this new cutting-edge world. He told me flat out: “Don’t fool yourself – for every Google there are literally thousands of starts-ups that never see the light of day. The high-tech business seems rosy from the outside, but it’s brutally tough.”

The real question here is do you want to be ahead of the curve or ride the wave? When you’re into a market first, there’s a huge advantage. Look no further than examples like IBM, Coca-Cola and Ford motor company. But being in first in often means a greater degree of hazard.

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Celebrating over 50 years of audio excellence worldwide, Audio-Technica is a leading innovator in transducer technology, renowned for the design and manufacture of microphones, wireless microphones, headphones, mixers, and electronics for the audio industry.