After more than a decade in product development roles with companies such as Barco, Martin Professional, VER/Revolution Display, and most recently, AC Entertainment Lighting, Mats Karlsson has gone into business for himself. Based in Sweden, his new venture, Intendor is a product innovation consultancy that will help companies focus their visions and develop innovative and relevant products. A key member of the development teams of a number of well-known products, including the Martin Professional P3 LED video system, Revolution Display X15 LED Floor System, and the Barco MiSTRIP, Karlsson focuses on visual technologies, particularly LED-based lighting and display products. With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, Karlsson seeks to offer his market knowledge, technical expertise, contacts, and passion to help companies stay ahead in the competitive market economy.
Upon hearing the news, Live Design promptly caught up with Karlsson about his new company via a late-night Skype call to Sweden (thanks, Mats!).
1. Tell us about your new venture, Intendor. Was there an obvious need for this you observed that’s currently lacking in the industry?
I’ve always been creating new products, but it was only about ten or 15 years ago that I realized there was actually a science, if you like, or an art to this. There are certain ways to do it in an effective way, and that got me really interested. I’ve been able to apply this in the roles that I’ve had, and I’ve seen that this is actually very effective. At the same time, I’ve been very frustrated with the lack of innovation in recent years. It used to be very exciting to attend tradeshows—LDI, PLASA, etc.—and see new things. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve got the feeling that we’re seeing less and less of new things and more and more of imitation. It looks like a few innovators are drowning in a sea of imitators, and more and more frequently, people are talking about how it’s unfair, how it’s immoral, people should sue for copying this, etc. That’s all well and good, but a lawsuit—best case—just slows somebody down. The only way to keep a competitive edge and stay viable in the market is to constantly innovate.
This brings me to my second pet peeve, which is that people sit around the table and try to scratch their heads to get new ideas, and that doesn’t work. You have to get out there and look at what people are doing because any new product is essentially a solution to a problem. Either a solution to a new problem or a better solution to an existing problem. That’s what products are about. If your product doesn’t solve a problem, then it has no place, and all your effort has gone into that. It’s just a waste of time and money—time and money that could have been spent on doing something more viable that wouldn’t have cost more. It just needed some more thought to it.
With the amount of me-too products being produced every day, it just creates irritation, frustration, and eventually, a giant landfill of products that nobody wants to use. People think, “Yeah, but innovation is risky and expensive.” It’s easily as risky and as expensive to create something that is mediocre, and that’s the key. People have to understand that innovation is actually a win-win for everybody.
I’m really passionate about this because I find it so frustrating that people don’t get this. For some reason, our entire industry—and I suspect other industries as well—has tunnel vision. They just see their competitors. “What’s our competitor doing? Oh, he’s bringing out a so-and-so. Okay, I need to bring out a so-and-so, too, a so-and-so plus with a little brighter lamp and two more colors.” And it doesn’t get you anywhere. My thinking with this new company is that I can be a resource for manufacturers who want to dare to take a step aside and think a little harder about things and actually create something exciting and new and useful for the creative artists out there.
2. How does your experience with other companies contribute to what you’re planning to offer?
I would say it’s my frustration and, let’s say, negative experiences that have taught me the most. For every company that I’ve worked with there have been highs and there have been lows. Some companies are more in tune with innovation than others. Some have more politics than others, but that’s true of any company, of course. There are always those with different agendas. Big companies have more people concerned with their careers and personal wealth than the product or the company’s longevity, but I think overall, when companies get to a certain size, they become more and more ineffective. I think you’ll find that innovation typically happens in smaller companies, and when they scale up, innovation starts to decline, and it gets harder. There have been some that have been able to stay competitive, like ETC, Clay Paky, etc., while others have just grown into these behemoths who cease to be able to do anything but complain about not being competitive anymore and scratching their heads and not understanding what’s going on. As I mentioned, ETC and Clay Paky are examples of companies who are being competitive year after year, but for every one of those companies, there are a hundred that are basically spinning around in a hamster wheel, not getting anywhere, and I hope to help some of these people. That’s my vision.
The Vision For Intendor
3. How are you going to provide the solutions to such issues? What sort of services are you offering?
The first step is to basically take a hard look at the company and what they’re doing today, and looking at where they want to be tomorrow, or let’s say, in one, two, or five years’ time. Then, based on the resources they have, their vision, and where they are now, help them align those resources in a focused way and not spread themselves too thin over too many things. That’s also something that is very common: People, in their frustration about not being competitive, start betting on everything, and nothing gets the attention it needs to be successful. So they’re spreading their resources over maybe five, six, seven, eight product lines, whereas they might be better off doing just one or two. It’s all about analyzing the company, looking at the resources they have, where they want to be, and then helping them find the resources they need, helping them focus, and getting them thinking in the right way, understanding how to put together a proper product strategy, how to do a proper portfolio plan, understanding how their overall business strategy interacts with their product strategy and with sales and marketing, because it all ties together. Everyone in the company needs to pull in the same direction. Otherwise, you’ll just create a lot of friction, aggravation, and frustration.
4. Can you talk about companies you’re already working with, or what’s brewing?
Well, this company is very, very new, and I’m only right now involved in three different projects. One company is a North American manufacturer of architectural lights, a company that’s been around for a while, and they haven’t quite kept up with the times. They have now realized that they really need to get on this LED train, and they don’t have the experience, the know-how. So my role there is to help find the right partners that can help them get to that point. Another company I’m working with is a European manufacturer that has been around for a long while. The owner is looking to retire, but he realizes that, if he just takes the money and runs, the company is going to fall apart. So he needs help creating proper structures in the company, organizing his company so it has a good chance of surviving long-term. I’m also in discussions with a very well-known company within the event technology industry that is looking for somebody to take a broad look at their entire product portfolio. They basically need help with everything; well, that’s what they say! If I’m not careful, they’re going to take 100% of my time, and that’s not what I want to do. I’ve done that for the last 15 years, working for one company at a time, but I feel that if I work for maybe two, three, four, maximum five companies, that’s the best for me and my clients because then there is a cross-fertilization of ideas. It keeps me interested, keeps me sharp.
5. Where do you hope your company will be at the end of a year? How about five to ten?
Ultimately, my goal is to build a small team, maybe like a legal practice where we all have clients, and we all pull together our respective experiences and know-how in order to help. There might be somebody who’s an expert in marketing, one who is maybe an expert in software technology. It’s not about creating an R&D—research and development—company because there are plenty of those out there as well as contract manufacturers. It’s more of a strategic business where you help companies organize themselves and put in the right procedures and the right way of attacking problems. That’s where it’s lacking because most companies in our industry are teams of enthusiasts. They maybe started as a musician, like I did, or a DJ or something, and then they sort of lucked into this industry. Some of them became really successful, but very few of them have any sort of formal training on product development, and I think that’s where part of the problem is. We’re all enthusiasts, and enthusiasm can get you a long way, but if you combine enthusiasm with know-how, then you can get a lot further.