Do you ever wonder why some companies skyrocket while others fail? Even companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon started small, fuelled by their founders’ enthusiasm. Everyone knows the companies that have succeeded, but for each of these blue-chip stocks there were another 100 or 1000 promising companies with interesting products championed by clever enthusiasts that ended up bankrupt.
Even the most successful companies regularly develop products which have no real success or traction. In 2006, Microsoft introduced the Zune MP3 player, which was designed to compete with the wildly-popular iPod. That product was discontinued in 2011, shortly after the release of its third generation. In 2014, Amazon attempted to enter the smartphone market with the Amazon Fire Phone. Despite significant investment in its development, the Fire Phone did not prove competitive and was withdrawn at a loss of $170 million — a mere drop in the bucket for Amazon. In 2013, Google released Google Glass, a fancy gadget with limited use cases and an even more limiting price tag. This project was suspended less than two years later.
Products may fail for a variety of reasons, even if they are excellent, unique and innovative. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking a product will make it, and ignore otherwise obvious signs. Under pressure from investors, it can be tempting to escalate prior commitments, hope for the best and keep flogging a horse that has been dead for months.
If big, successful companies experience failures despite having access to the best engineers, marketers and designers and sufficient capital, what is the recipe for true success? The answer is that product development is inherently risky and the only way to achieve success is to minimise the impact of any failures that do arise.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
At Applifting we believe that failure is an inevitable part of what we do. If our hypotheses were always correct we wouldn’t learn anything new. However, there are certain failures we can avoid, as others have made them for us and we wouldn’t stand to learn anything from repeating them ourselves.
In this series of articles I will walk you through the various stages of product development and their common traps. I begin in the next article by talking about the importance of the product vision. The following article will be devoted to product validation, the fourth to product discovery and delivery, and I will close the series by discussing scaling and vision fading.
For each of these product development phases, I will refer to famous examples of failures. I do this with no intention of judging the people behind those products, but solely for the sake of learning from their mistakes — without knowledge of these cases it would be all too easy to walk the same path.