About 10 years ago, inventor Dean Kamen, in a much-anticipated introduction, brought his Segway to the public. Revered by the media and business-world celebrities as a total game-changer in urban planning, transportation and daily life, the public ended up a bit crestfallen at what they actually saw. It looks like a glorified scooter, and even today, it's a rare sight to see anyone other than a mall security officer or tourist group plodding along on one.
So what went wrong? How did one of the most buzzed-about innovations in modern times fall so short? It's easy to see Kamen's avoidable mistakes in hindsight. Take note to make sure the next product or service you launch doesn't flop.
When the super-secret project got big corporate names like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos to sign off, the hype machine went into overdrive. The inventors' secrecy, the prominence of the endorsements, and the beyond-bold claims that this new product—whatever it was—would revolutionize our lives of course combined to skyrocket expectations into the stratosphere of the impossible.
Basically, Kamen set the Segway up to fail. Touting a single new product as all of these things, and letting the media get carried away without any real context, doomed the Segway to be a disappointment. All the coverage and crazy claims could hardly be satisfied by the actual Segway, though a more savvy (read: scaled-back and informative) marketing strategy could have generated interest and delivered on its promises.
Take your time
A too-eager team behind Segway let media attention spiral out of control and built the public's anticipation up way too much. Plus, it's probably fair to say Kamen was quite eager to make his big reveal to the world. Initial speculation about the Segway (then known by code names IT and Ginger) suggested it would pioneer new technology in its engine. Kamen even registered domains including that engine's name. But the Segway the public saw unveiled, perhaps prematurely, in 2001 didn't match up.
Setting deadlines is a good thing. Holding yourself accountable to meet those set dates and times is crucial—it helps you work hard, be efficient and remember your goals. But sometimes, things just don't go as planned. Allow yourself some wiggle room, and be willing to graciously admit that you miscalculated or misjudged what would work. You must balance pressure to perform with a realistic view of results. It's an important factor in whether new ideas, products and services succeed. They have to be ready for consumers, and consumers have to be ready for them.
Share (at least some) information
Before it was officially introduced to the public, the Segway's allure came entirely from its mystery. Jobs and Bezos loved it, the media praised it—and yet, no one knew what the thing actually was.
To an extent, the keep-'em-guessing technique is a viable one. It gets people talking, and makes sure they'll tune in when you finally kill the suspense by sharing your new idea. But Segway's developers went overboard and didn't rein in the outrageous attention they got. Consumers' and industry analysts' minds ran wild, and when Segway finally saw the light of day, it couldn't measure up.
Forget the marketing blunders that led up to Segway's release. Heralded as one of the world's most important inventions, when it hit the market, its pricetag was a lofty $5,000. That was, and is, out of reach for the everyman.
If Segway actually could have changed transportation forever, that might not be so bad. But for a souped-up scooter that can't withstand the elements, it's too much. Remember that the products and services you introduce should not only resonate, but also be available to, your customer base. If prototype versions or initial runs wouldn't fit into those price constraints, keep refining production until they do. Otherwise, no matter how excited people might get about what you're offering, it can't truly take hold.
Image credit: pdsphil