Christian Sandström holds a PhD from ChalmersUniversity of Technology, Sweden. He writes and speaks about disruptive innovation and technological change.
The Swedish companyHasselblad became a camera legend when it was used in space during the 1960s.
The following photo ofEdwin ”Buzz” Aldrin (no. 2 on the moon) and Victor Hasselblad – the founderof the company, was taken in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The Hasselblad system hasbeen loved all over the world for its flexibility, superiorperformance and simplicity.
Headquartered in the industrial city Gothenburg, in the south west of Sweden, Hasselblad became a cult brand in the 1960s and 1970s.
Believe it or not – but though Hasselbladwas an iconiccamera, therewere several concernsalready in the 1980s.
The medium format segmentof the industry faced decliningrevenues already in the 1980s.
A shrinking market may in the long run lead to increased pricecompetition, and thus lower profits.
Maybe Hasselblad should try to diversify its business in order to grow?
In addition to this, the ’Mavicashock’ from Sony’s launch of asemi-digital camera in 1981 had put digital imaging on the agenda of all big players.
Even though the shift was far away, especially for high-endfirms like Hasselblad, it wouldbe unwise to completely ignore the new technology…
Hasselblad was a mechanical company, and it would be quite risky to have only a competence related to coggwheels the day when electronics transform the industry.
“Even though I did not believe in theMavica concept, I was convinced thatthe photo chemical film would in thefuture be subject to seriouscompetition from electronicalphotography and would eventually besubstituted by this technology” //CEO Jerry Öster, 1991
”I met Sony’s CEO and the personbehind the Mavica project. It soonbecame clear that the technologyhad so many shortcomings that itwould not lead to any commercialsuccess.” Jerry Öster, CEO
But at the same time – could a relatively small company like Hasselblad enter at this veryearly point and compete with such poor image quality with diluting its brand? Sounds risky.
Öster discussed the issue with the R&D Manager Lennart Stålfors (who was an electrical engineer). They both concluded that the Mavica was not theway forward for Hasseblad, but were still certain that digital imaging would become a serious threat in the future.
Digital Imaging and scannerswere at this point very different businesses compared to the analogue camera work.
Maybe it was better to separate this from the company and give it an opportunity to grow on its own…
In 1985, the subsidiaryHASSELBLAD ELECTRONIC IMAGING was born.
Take a good luck at the brand. The ’Hasselblad’ logo is combined with a different font for ’Electronic Imaging’.This was done in order to communicatethat while this was a premium product, it was still different from Hasselblad’s traditional business.
1. They started out on a small scale with low expecations. This isabsolutely necessary, because new things must by definition be small in the beginning. Big companies often ’think big’ and thereby miss out on small opportunities which become big later on.
2. Hasselblad dared to leave its comfort zone. Was the OSIRIS project a failure because it did not generate anyrevenues? No, it was actually here thatthe ’Dixel opportunity’ was discovered. Companies which only stick to their’core competence’ will never find such possibilities.
3. The HEIAB peoplewere the right guys for this. They were creators, not administrators of existing things.
4. While still leveraging upon theHasselblad brand, HEIAB was veryautonomous. No one except for the CEO could touch it, and thus HEIAB wasn’t starved in the dailyinternal competition for resources.
When the HEIAB business started to fade, most of the staff movedback into the mother company inorder to develop digital cameras from 1993 and on.