Black Swans and the Future of Energy by Paul Polak and Krish Desai

Energy experts now confidently predict that by 2040, solar and wind will drive no less than 60% of global power; natural gas will replace the lion's share of the burning of coal, and the market for electric cars will soar. Nassim Taleb, on the other hand, questions the ability of experts to predict just about anything. He asserts instead, in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, that the future is consistently shaped by unexpected, high-impact outlier events, which we do our best to rationalize after the fact. Who could have predicted the Black Swan disruptive transformative impact of Henry Ford's Model T…

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Running the Numbers

by Paul Polak and Sydney Bergen Over the last 30 years I have found it useful to constantly and obsessively “Run the Numbers” when I look at any business opportunity. I try to do this in a way that quickly strikes to the heart of any business. Running the numbers can identify key transformative opportunities as well as the greatest likely stumbling blocks to success. Just about every entrepreneur I know can generate the financial projections required by a standard business plan. But the ability to carry out rapid and sequential back-of-the envelope estimates of things like where the sweet spot in the market lies,…

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Is it Wrong for Business to Profit from the Poor?

Mohammad Yunus is a nice man. He's also very smart, innovative, a risk-taker -- and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace. However, he is sometimes wrong. And he's most certainly wrong when he insists, as he has done so frequently in recent years both in his books and in public appearances, that the solution to global poverty lies in forming "social businesses" that never distribute profits to investors. “Poverty should be eradicated," Yunus asserts, "not seen as a money-making opportunity.” He believes that investors in social businesses should only get their money back. In my view, that adds up to a sizable interest-free subsidy,…

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Clean Water for India

Spring Health, our rapidly scalable safe drinking water company designed to go global, has now started its commercial rollout in India by recruiting and training 90 new full-time staff, and expanding from 35 villages to 105 villages in three months. As the months go by, we have learned more and more about the fundamental importance of getting the marketing mix right. We've bundled all the most successful tactics into an approach we call "blitz marketing." Blitz marketing We have improved our blitz marketing strategy to the point that we now can increase sales in village partner shops to 1000 liters of water a day within…

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The SunWater Project – Advanced Solar Technology for Poor Farmers

In my last article, you heard about SunWater, a project to build a radically affordable solar water pump for $2-a-day farmers that will transform small plot agriculture, create new water markets, and significantly increase incomes that will raise bottom-of-the-pyramid families out of poverty. Our target customers are small-plot farmers in India and Africa. These farmers need a reliable, low-cost water pumping system so that they can grow cash crops to increase their incomes. They also need electric power to add value to their crops (grinding, processing, etc.) and for household use. Current pumping systems cost too much or are unreliable. Solar pumping systems have been…

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Transforming Solar Pumping to Eliminate Rural Poverty

What if we could harness the limitless power of the sun to carry  water to the crops of millions of small poor farmers around the world? If I want to water my petunias, I turn on the tap outside my house, hold my thumb over the end of a battered green hose, and water away. If a small farmer in Ghana or China wants to water a small patch of vegetables he’s growing to sell in the local market, he breaks his back hauling water in two buckets or sprinkling cans from a nearby stream. It takes six hours a day every other day for…

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The Next Digital Revolution

If the giants of global business had used some of the basic principles of appropriate technology effectively, Those giants and the companies they formed would have literally transformed business as it is today.

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Building A Better Mousetrap is Only the Beginning

Paul Polak Responds to Acumen Fund's Lesson #6 - "Great Technology Alone is not the Answer"  Question: If you build a better mousetrap will the world beat a path to your door? Answer: Without superb marketing and distribution nobody beats a path to your door. In my work with a multitude of affordable technologies over the past 30 years, one key feature has become abundantly clear: If you have met the challenge of designing a transformative, radically affordable technology, you’ve successfully solved no more than 10-20% of the problem. The critical other 80% of the solution lies in designing an effective marketing, distribution, and profitable…

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From Concept to Market: How to Design for Impact

Responding to Martin Herrndorf's (@Herrndorf) blog post titled All That Glitters is Good on NextBillion.net "How do we commercialize university and do-it-yourself projects for the Other 90%? Too much sits in research." Paul Polak's video response is below: "The Appropriate Technology movement failed because it was peopled by technocrats rather than hard-headed entrepreneurs, and technologies were designed to solve technological problems rather than being designed for the market." "The same problem exists when technologies are designed in design courses in universities, rather than being designed to fit into markets, and markets that are scalable. In order to make things work with practical impact they have to be designed…

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¡Viva la revolución

Five years ago, at the Aspen design summit, I said that 90% of the world’s designers spent all of their time addressing the needs of the richest 10% of the world’s customers. I also said that before I die I want to see that silly ratio turned on its head. What followed was an amazing sequence of events that included the creation of the traveling exhibit Design for the Other 90% at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum; the formation of D-Rev: Design Revolution, a Palo Alto based non-profit incubator for the design and mass market of radically affordable technologies; and earlier this year the launch…

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