The Art Of Getting It So Wrong

The Art Of Getting It So Wrong
SHARE
THIS



In this guest piece, Oliver Shawyer (pictured below), managing director of digital solutions business Feel and global marketing director at 180 Degrees Consulting, provides some words of wisdom for those about to embark on a start-up.

Oliver Shawyer

Today, loads of start-ups are receiving millions of dollars in investment. The service, the product, the offering… it all feels right, it all feels like the next big thing – the next Uber (blah, blah, blah) – but a story I came across recently reminded me that no matter how good you or the people around you think it is, it’s not about you. If it works for everyone but the person it’s intended for, then you’re doomed. Sure, this is a “no shit” statement, but yet here we are.

Have you ever heard of the story of Trevor Field?

In 1989, he visited an agricultural fair in Pretoria, South Africa, where he met a water engineer named Ronnie Stuiver, who was demonstrating a model for a new type of water pump. Skipping across a chunk of the detail (because I want you to read on to the punchline), the showcase reminded him of a fishing trip he’d taken many years before, during which he watched the women of a rural village wait for hours next to a windmill-powered water pump. He recalled that there had been no wind that day, but in light of the near-desperate need of supplying their homes with water, they simply sat and waited for the water to flow. He thought to himself then that there had to be a better way, and here in front of him at the fair was the potential solution – the PlayPump.

Unlike the typical hand and windmill pumps found in many villages of the poor countries, Stuiver’s invention seemed brilliant because it doubled as a merry-go-round. The scenario that played over in Trevor’s head made perfect sense: the children would play on the merry-go-round, it would spin, and in doing so it would pump water from the ground into a tank. No longer would the women of the village need to trek for miles to draw water, and at the same time, the children (who have almost nothing) had something to entertain them for hours upon hours. A product that utilised the power of playing children to provide sustainable water supply for the community. It was the best idea Trevor had ever seen, and so fittingly, he bought the patent and then spent the next five years improving the design, which also included the idea of placing billboard advertisements on the sides of the water tank as a way to generate revenue to pay for pump maintenance.

Throughout these years and those that followed, Trevor delivered some monumental milestones including:

  • Registration of the charity PlayPumps International.
  • Installation of the first PlayPump in 1995.
  • Securing the first sponsor, Colgate Palmolive, in 1995.
  • Installed 50 pumps across Africa by the turn of the millennium.
  • Out of 3,000 applications, won a World Bank Development Marketplace Award that was given to ‘innovative, early stage development projects that are scalable and/or replicable, while also having high potential for development impact’.
  • Attracted funding, including from AOL chief executive Steve Case, who then worked with Field to set up an American arm of PlayPumps International with the aim of rolling out thousands of new PlayPumps across Africa.
  • Executing significantly successful fundraising marketing campaigns, including the launch of One Water, through The One Foundation, which donated all profits to PlayPump International (just to note, One Water became the official bottled water of Live 8 concerns and the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign).
  • Became the darling of international media and celebrity endorsement, that included proclamation from Bill Clinton in a Time article in 2016, and backing from Jay-Z.
  • Awarded a $16.4 million grant by First Lady Laura Bush whilst launching a campaign designed to raise $60 million to fund 4,000 PlayPumps across Africa by 2010.
  • By 2009, 1,800 PlayPumps had been installed across South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia.

PlayPumps were the biggest thing since sliced bread, and the milestones above were just a few of the key indicators to how berserk it really went.

But here’s the catch.

For all it’s proclaimed business success and milestones – all the PR, the money raised, the products developed – for all of that, there was very little success on the ground. You know, the part where the product actually gets used. The only real part that matters.

Shortly after 2009, two damning reports were released by World Vision/UNICEF and the Swiss Resource Centre and Consultancies for Development respectively. It turned out that despite all the noise, the awards, and the millions of dollars spent, no one had really considered the practicalities and realities of the PlayPump for the end-user.

For instance:

  • Most merry-go-rounds spin freely once they’ve gained enough momentum, but in order for water to pump, PlayPumps needed constant force. This is exhausting for any adult, let alone a child.
  • Children were known to fall off and break limbs or vomit from the spinning.
  • The $14,000 PlayPump was inferior in almost every way to the ‘unsexy’ functional hand pumps it competed with (which, by the way, cost approximately four times less).
  • With less effort, some hand pumps (that they used before the PlayPump) would provide nearly five times the amount of water than the PlayPump. One reporter estimated that in order to provide a typical village’s water needs, the merry-go-round would have to spin for 27 hours per day.
  • The billboards on the storage tanks lay bare because the rural communities were too poor for companies interested in paying for advertising.

The incentive for the children was minimal (and wore off completely), to the point where some were even paid to ‘play’. And much of the time the women of the local village ended up pushing the merry-go-round themselves, which as a task was tiring and demeaning.

When asked, many of them said they preferred what they previously had to use and do.

The outcome of PlayPumps, albeit sad, probably doesn’t feel to foreign for a lot of you. In our short lifetimes alone, we’ve all seen many products full of such hype and potential fail miserably when implemented, even more so now in this digital age (when barriers to entry are lower and opportunity appears broader).

But regardless of how often or how close to home, we’re often left asking the same question:

How did everyone get it so wrong, and on such a scale?

Obviously, I don’t have the definitive answers. I couldn’t, because I’ve not experienced it to the extent that people like Trevor have.

But, in unpacking this story plus many others, some things you may find worth considering (notably if you’re also in the process of building your own business or product) could include:

  • Understanding your audience. Not just what they say they would do, but in understanding what they will actually do in true context. You do not know better than them.
  • Engaging your audience and testing hypotheses with them throughout the entire process. It’s the only way to truly understand the context of the problem you’re trying to address.
  • Appreciating that user research is no longer just about unpacking what, you need to know why. We’re all driven by inherited biases and developed heuristics – it’s important to understand what sub consciously drives our behaviour and decisions.
  • Beware the thrill of new technology. Just because it’s shiny and sparkles doesn’t mean it’s immediately better (or more demanded). This is a huge trap in the world we live in today, so stay true to your objective and delivering on that in the most effective and efficient way.
  • Appreciating the power of familiarity. Anything that feels too different brings with it the fear of new. The power of the status quo is compelling so work with it rather than against it.
  • Unpacking you’re own downfall. Don’t be driven solely by emotion, understand the facts and digest all the evidence. Having the right intentions is always a great place to start, but it’s shouldn’t be the only place.

I’m about to endeavour on tech start-up, so the key will be putting my money where my mouth is. After all, surely I’ll know if I’ve got it all wrong… won’t I?

Please login with linkedin to comment

Designworks einsights Oliver Shawyer PlayPump PlayPumps

Latest News

A Naked Shane Jacobson Saves Water For Sydney Water
  • Campaigns

A Naked Shane Jacobson Saves Water For Sydney Water

Aussie actor and media personality Shane Jacobson has joined forces with Sydney Water to launch a new water conservation campaign called Turn it off, Bob – urging us to think differently about our relationship with water. The campaign launched yesterday, and features Jacobson in character as the likeable larrikin, ‘Bob’, whose long steamy shower sparks […]

Aussie Shoe Brand TWOOBS Embraces Anti-Marketing In Push For More Consumer-conscious Shopping
  • Marketing

Aussie Shoe Brand TWOOBS Embraces Anti-Marketing In Push For More Consumer-conscious Shopping

After relaunching in September last year, TWOOBS has become a ‘kinda’ shoe brand by also focusing on making the world a ‘kinder’ place and creating more consumer-conscious shopping. The vegan shoe brand founded by sisters Jess and Stef Dadon changed its marketing approach last year and stopped using social media to push sales the old-fashioned […]

Visit Sunshine Coast Hires New Head Of Marketing
  • Marketing

Visit Sunshine Coast Hires New Head Of Marketing

Highly experienced tourism marketer Kelly Ryan has been appointed to lead the marketing efforts at Visit Sunshine Coast (VSC). During the past 12 years, Ryan has supported Canberra’s tourism industry in senior marketing roles, including as director of strategy and insights as well as director of marketing at VisitCanberra. Most recently, Ryan has been working […]

GHO Sydney And Family Planning NSW Launch ‘Planet Puberty’ Platform
  • Campaigns

GHO Sydney And Family Planning NSW Launch ‘Planet Puberty’ Platform

GHO Sydney has developed a new educational platform for Family Planning NSW to help parents and carers of children with disabilities navigate the changes to their bodies, emotions and social interactions. The project, ‘Planet Puberty’, was made possible through funding from the federal government’s Department of Social Services, and was co-designed with people with disability […]

JCDecaux Announces New Partnership With Bush Heritage Australia
  • Media

JCDecaux Announces New Partnership With Bush Heritage Australia

JCDecaux today announced conservation organisation, Bush Heritage Australia, as its major charity partner for 2021. The partnership is part of a series of ‘social impact’ initiatives the business is launching this year, under the banner of JCDecauxHEART. JCDecauxHEART focuses on three areas of social impact: health and mental health, environmental sustainability, and enriching urban communities. […]

Shameless Duo Michelle Andrews And Zara McDonald Launch New Podcast Exclusive To LiSTNR
  • Media

Shameless Duo Michelle Andrews And Zara McDonald Launch New Podcast Exclusive To LiSTNR

Shameless Media’s Michelle Andrews and Zara McDonald’s latest podcast, The Books That Changed My Life, will launch exclusively on LiSTNR on Tuesday, 15 June. Throughout the series Michelle and Zara will talk with guests including Kevin Kwan, Laura Henshaw, Jock Zonfrillo, Susan Carland, Hamish Blake and Delta Goodrem about the books that have had a profound impact […]

Business and technology concept.
  • Partner Content

Make Your CX Stand Out From The Competition

It's top tips to ensure your CX stands out from the competition. Then again, you could simply plagiarise their stuff.

Partner Content

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Why The Future of Work Is Hybrid
  • Opinion

Why The Future of Work Is Hybrid

This expert argues the future of work is hybrid. Which is sad news, as B&T'd preferred it was rhumba or the bossa nova.

Champion Launches Pride Campaign And Partnership With Queer Sporting Alliance
  • Advertising
  • Marketing

Champion Launches Pride Campaign And Partnership With Queer Sporting Alliance

In celebration of Pride Month, cult streetwear brand Champion has announced an Australia-and New Zealand-first Pride range, Champions of Pride, and ongoing partnership with the Queer Sporting Alliance. Championing a cause, celebrating community, and aiming to create real change, the capsule collection proudly heroes the Pride colours in a selection of signature Champion tees, iconic […]

UK Based BankiFi Expands To Australia
  • Marketing

UK Based BankiFi Expands To Australia

Following the successful deployment of BankiFi’s technology platform at The Co-operative Bank in the UK, BankiFi has appointed Lloyd Parata to lead their expansion into the Australian Financial Services market. BankiFi’s technology platform ensures banks remain relevant by offering SMEs an innovative solution to operate their business, whilst avoiding common challenges like late payment. Parata, […]