A Talk on How Porn Drives Mainstream Technology Adoption

Matthew Lee (ME ‘15)

On March 11th, John Pavley gave a talk titled “How Porn Drives Mainstream Internet Technology Adoption.” The event was organized by
create@cooper.

One million startups exist each year, but only 3% actually succeed. For a startup to be successful, the product or service it offers has to pass five groups that define consumers: the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, and the laggards. Each of these groups is separated by a gap, or transition. The hardest one to cross is the transition from early adopters to the early majority, called “the Chasm.” If a startup fails to cross the chasm, it dies, as 97% of startups do. Once a startup passes the Chasm, it is successful.

“If a startup fails to cross the chasm, it dies, as 97% of startups do.”

What is the secret to crossing this Chasm? The answer may be the porn industry.

According to John Pavley, who has worked for Apple, Yahoo, Spotify, and Limewire, and is currently the Chief Technology Officer at the Huffington post, tech startups are successful if they meet certain criteria. The first criterion says that the startup must address and feed a basic human weakness. Pavley names the seven deadly sins and other ‘vices’ and ‘taboos’ as examples of things startups must exploit to be successful. Successful startups must use technology to thin the barriers between people.

“Successful startups must use technology to thin the barriers between people.”

What kind of tech startups address human taboos? Lots of the companies you’re familiar with. Seamless is fueled by people’s natural laziness (sloth); Facebook appeals to people’s urge to brag and show off (pride); Google satisfies the lust for knowledge – and the lust for other subjects.

Pavley cautions that while exploiting the taboo is necessary, breaking the taboo can spell disaster.

The second criterion is a thought experiment: could the porn industry use the startup’s product or service? The porn industry doesn’t actually have to use the startup, but the adoption of technology by the porn industry is one of the best indicators of success.

Pavley names an example from one of his previous jobs, when he worked for Apple in the 1990’s. Apple had recently come out with some newer versions QuickTime, one of the first video players. The first version of QuickTime, released in 1991, could play video at a 320×240 resolution, which was an incredible breakthrough at the time. Despite this, low-resolution video didn’t impress the
public until an Apple
employee introduced QuickTime at a porn convention. Pavley also notes that the photography, the colored printing press, satellite and cable television, and the Internet, have been adopted heavily by the porn industry before the majority of consumers adopted them.

In order to create a successful tech startup, you must ask yourself two questions about your startup: Does your
startup exploit some basic human weakness? Could the porn industry possibly use your startup’s product or service? If the answer to both is yes, you can cross the Chasm.

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