Massive physical product failures have unintended consequences, they tend to change the market.
The 3 largest product failures in history will always include the Zune, the Segway, and Will.i.am’s Puls Smartwatch.
The Zune lost Microsoft $289 million but it still sold millions of units and even today you can find people online reminiscing how much they like despite everyone making fun of it.
Will.i.am’s smartwatch is hilariously unusable blowing $45 million and personally losing $15 million of Will.i.am’s own money.
But the Segway, and only the Segway lost nearly $100 million and $50 million of Dean Kamen’s personal money. They built factories and supplies to product 1000 Segways every single day for the impending day when everyone and their postman will be using one to transport. 2 years after launch, they sold a total of 6,000.
But unlike the others, Segway did something really important.
They brought Gyroscopes to the consumer market.
Gyroscopes were huge and expensive until MEMS Gyros were conceptualized. These gyros were extremely small and if produced at mass scale would become extremely cheap. But there was no need for millions gyros in the late 90s. The military needed them, NASA needed them, but the average person didn’t buy anything that needed one.
If the book Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen’s Quest to Invent a New World is to be believed, Segway came to the rescue. They believed they needed multiple gyroscopes to hold it up and hundreds of thousands to millions of units after launching.
It made little sense for MEMS to invest money into mass producing factories without the demand, but here came Segway saying they had it. Right after came the Wii, then finally the most successful product in all of history, the Iphone.
I believe the ability to mass produce gyroscopes in time and cheaply helped bring the Wii and Iphone to market in a very very small way. Websites and apps don’t have the same effect on the market. I doubt Moviepass, Webvan, and Friendster served as anything other than examples of timing issues and what not to do financially.
I had the very strange experience of working at DEKA and met Dean Kamen several times. He apparently hated that book. I remember after I finished it, I left it around the office for someone else to read. A high level employee looked at it and laughed “He is not going to want to see that around.”
The book was made because he invited a well known biographer to follow him around and document history being made. Going from that to having the book document your role in one of the biggest failures in history instead might irritate him. If only he could think how his failure contributed to the Iphone.