Learning From Hackers

Do-it-yourself types fly under most corporate radars, or at least they’re mischaracterized as tinkerers, post-end users or, worse, hackers. Epson has demonstrated that they can be a fruitful source for innovation, as long as a company knows what to look for, and how to apply it.

The proof came in its Indonesian market late last decade, where sales staff reported numerous instances when its popular ink jet printers were being hacked by folks who filled large containers with ink, then rigged them to their devices with tubes and triggers. A number of stores across Jakarta had responded to the trend by selling ink at literal “filling stations,” though there was really no way to know what gunk consumers were choosing to put into their machines.

You can imagine the chagrin this must have caused at company HQ.

The phenomenon violated the sacred laws of its printer business, from blowing up Epson’s recurring income stream from replacement cartridges, to risking poor performance quality from its industry-leading (and brand-defining) Micro Piezo print heads. Attaching jugs of ink to printers probably violated its manufacturer’s warranty, too.

Yet its response was to understand the hack, get internal departments that didn’t normally work together to develop a solution and, by 2010, launch an external “big tank” not only to the Indonesian market, but to others that demonstrated the same characteristics regarding ink price sensitivity. Though the initial cost of the new printers was higher than its other models, the lower operating costs/time made them incredibly successful (Epson gets to fill those tanks with its ink, which also ensures that print quality stays true to its brand promise).

Its EcoTank printers are now available around the world.

Epson’s approach to innovating this product is instructive for a few reasons…

Read the entire essay at Innovation Communicator