Home > From the tavern: Innovation stories and opinions > Accelerating the diffusion of innovation – Autolib’s BlueCars now roam the streets of Paris

Accelerating the diffusion of innovation – Autolib’s BlueCars now roam the streets of Paris

A year ago, I was drawing innovation lessons from Bollore’s BlueCar winning the contract to run the Autolib’ scheme of the city of Paris. In 2011, the scheme was implemented: pick-up/drop-off stations were created throughout the city with their visible electric car chargers, vehicles were delivered. Autolib’ has now been live for a couple of months, and yesterday, at the very last moment of 2011, I gave it a try. It worked brilliantly. That prompted a few more thoughts, if not lessons, on how to accelerate the transformation of a good idea into a commercial success.

A first question is: why didn’t I do it earlier?

As a consumer, I’m not a pionneer, not even an early adopter. I’m too weary of fashion and hype to rush to the store when a new product is launched. And I would most definitely NOT queue all night to be amongst the first to wave a new gadget in front of cameras in the morning as if my life was at a turning point. On the Diffusion of Innovations curve that was shown in an earlier post, I’d place myself at the beginning of early majority. But having a low change threshold, I’m usually open minded about trying out new things. ‘Try’ is the key word here. While hype and the satisfaction of being one of the first to own something will work for some, discretion and a chance to test the product, to prototype how I could use it, will work better for me.

A possible lesson for innovators is therefore: if you can design a business model that allows customers to get a full scale experience trial, you will accelerate the diffusion of the innovation to the early majority. But I’m not talking here about having a demo in a shop; I’m talking about enabling the customer to have a real-life experience of the product. This does require serious business model design, which in some cases will be easy (eg 30-days free software download) and in other cases a lot more difficult (eg how do you get customers to buy an electric car in the first place?). In the case of Autolib’ they had a 1-day discovery pass that I could buy for 10€.

A second question is: why (and how) did I do it this time?

It was New Year’s eve. My normal car was at the garage for repair. I had to cross Paris with family all dressed in festive attire, with presents for our hosts and sleep over kit  for the night. Public transport was an option, but not one that we felt particularly excited about. Some definitely less than others! So at 18:30 I decided to make a run for it, knowing that I had to head back home to pick up the family, with or without car, by 19:00.

  • In addition to the hundreds of Autolib’s 24/7 automated stations, there are a few dozens of Autolib’ shelters open for business till 20:00 7 days a week where you can get your pass done. There was one 10mins away from my home.
  • There was a helper on duty able to explain to me face-to-face how it all worked. Arguably he didn’t say much more than what I had already read on their website, but it’s easier to trust a person than a website.
  • I was connected to a remote but real admin staff who had my picture taken, my ID and driving license scanned remotely, and my badge delivered instantly.
  • 10mins later I was out of the shelter, getting the crash course (sorry for the pun) about how to unlock the BlueCar and lock it in at destination.
  • 25mins after leaving home, I was driving the car.

The lesson therefore has to be that a great product is only a good start. What will make or break the innovation is the attention given to the total customer experience. Anyone who has purchased equipments at an Apple Store and at any other electronic goods retailer, will know the difference between great and dreadful customer experience.

Today, on New Year’s day, with my 1-day discovery pass, I picked up another BlueCar to drive back home. It all worked fine again, and I know I will be using the service again without any hesitation. For a typical early majority consumer, I’m now converted to a new product at the same time as some of the very early adopters.


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