Posted by: rolfsky | February 21, 2008

delivering a useful luxury

photo, courtesy Señor Codo from flickr.

If you want to make a million (or a billion) dollars in this world, there’s one sure-fire way: deliver a useful luxury.

A useful luxury is a product or service which substantively improves the quality of life for the purchaser.

Examples of obvious useful luxuries would be:

  • a personal butler
  • TiVo
  • a Toyota Prius
  • a good cell phone plan
  • indoor plumbing
  • the polio vaccine

Indoor plumbing? The polio vaccine? You might think these are hardly luxuries, but necessities.

Yet, people lived just fine without them, for thousands of years. The last two are a little different, because we don’t see them as luxuries any more. Now, they are just part of our expected life.

Useful luxuries become multi-million dollar industries.

This transition from luxury into necessity happened because they are indeed profoundly useful. Seeing the universal demand for these “luxuries”, industry swung into action, lowering prices and increasing accessibility through technological, infrastructure and organizational innovations.

Using the lens of “luxury” is still a useful way of determining the future success of products. It foretells the success of Tivo, Netflix, Amazon, eBay, broadband internet, alternative fuel vehicles, supersonic travel, fusion power, and telepresence.

Each of the products, services, or innovations listed above are something that can be had “for a price”. Each is a luxury because it somehow “cheats” the existing way of doing things. Tivo obliterates the arbitrary restrictions on when you watch television; Netflix destroys the stupid “I need to go somewhere to have temporary entertainment” paradigm.

eBay provides a marketplace of buyers and sellers so rich and varied that it might be considered “cheating” to advertise and deliver to millions; supersonic travel knocks down the silly barrier of many hours between where you are, and where you’d like to be.

This “luxury lens” also puts close scrutiny on some topics like “social networking”. Is the value you get out of social networking in any way a luxury?

If you had unlimited resources (money), could you deliver a better and more profoundly useful experience than we’re seeing with FaceBook and MySpace?

If the answer is yes, then you should get on building it, because obviously somebody is not delivering on an opportunity.



  1. […] ability to communicate with other humans across vast distances and time is indeed a useful luxury, something which will only become more refined with […]

  2. […] are millions of people on Facebook right), but I refuse to believe that. There currently simply isn’t a viable alternative to those FREE walled gardens. If there was and people knew they had a choice, I am betting that a […]

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