I am a strong believer in strategic focus, however I have also personally experienced a case where an “openness” to opportunism turned the enterprise from a pedestrian company to a Silicon Valley legend. Ascend Communications was “focused” on ISDN based video conferencing with an OEM agreement with AT&T. However, AT&T came to Ascend and asked if it could solve a much bigger problem…dial-up access to the Internet over the voice switches was overloading them. 90 days later, Ascend delivered the solution, and the rest is Silicon Valley legend. The Ascend MAX became the global industry standard for dial-up Internet access, and the company the most successful SV company in 1996. So it always pays to keep your eyes and ears open.

Industry analysis is not a well understood discipline. It sits between macro economic analysis and market analysis, and uses tools from both. It is most commonly associated with the financial services industry which produces guides for their investors. But there are also large global consultancy firms that specialize in industry analysis. It is an important tool for governments, regional development agencies. Companies use industry analysts to assist their strategic planning. Those who can anticipate the changes in an industry are more likely to be successful. This brief presentation provides an overview of what industry analysis is, examples of industry analysis in action, and why it is so important.

At the request of Professor Ray Taheri of the UBC Engineering Faculty, I gave this guest lecture to all 4th year engineering students in ENGR 499 Capstone Project. From my background in entrepreneurial mentorship and entrepreneurial finance, I focused on the unique challenges engineers face in considering starting and developing a new venture. I discuss the full range of issues, but my personal emphasis, from experience, is the “character” issue. Some excellent engineers have successfully made the transition to entrepreneurship and executive management, but for others the odyssey is a bridge too far. Consequently, I place significant emphasis on honest self-analysis and appreciation of one’s strengths and weaknesses. Listening is a priceless skill.