27 January, 2017

Why Some Best Products Never See the Light of the Day

Many Revolutionary products die over the politics of egomaniacal leaders who neither have the talent to innovate nor the ability to let their teams innovate. While there are great leaders and visionaries who let their teams build great products, more often than not, few such leaders are at the mercy of so called *power people* who make decisions in favor of bank balance rather than real users’ needs. Short sightedness takes over long term investment in users. Let us take a look at 2 great products that died an early death.

The Magic Cart that Never Went Shopping
Few years ago, two Indian students studying in Singapore saw a problem (and an opportunity) with long check-out lines in super markets. They studied the problem for months visiting supermarkets, identified problem patterns and came up with a simple solution: Provide a seamless check-out experience.   These students designed a magic shopping cart that calculates the bill amount automatically, so that users could just pay and leave the billing counter, hence taking away the manual billing time by the operator. Here is how it worked. As soon as a shopper picked an item and put it into the shopping cart, the item would be scanned automatically by a scanner placed in the inside walls of the cart. The cart was designed such that the item could not get inside without passing through the scanner, whilst not making shoppers conscious of the way they put their items into the cart. This was in the year 2001. An auditorium of 1000+ students were floored by the idea, even though the retail revolution was at a nascent stage at the time. 

Fast forward to 2016. Amazon Go has wowed many shoppers. Amazon started actual work on Amazon Go in 2012, 11 years after what two young students had created with magic shopping cart. What is it that those two Indian students did that failed them? What did Amazon do that put them at the center stage of the world with Amazon Go? The easiest answer might be, ‘Amazon has a lot of investor money’, ‘Amazon is  a giant’,  ‘Those two students did not make use of the right ecosystems’ and so forth. In an ideal world, what is it that makes some products sticky and fail others? Oh! I forget that we are not in an ideal world, or so we think.

A Self-Healing Product couldn’t Keep Itself Alive
In 2008, I worked on a self-healing product that could detect different kinds of problems in a computer or a laptop and also fix about 70% of those problems. The only problems the product couldn’t fix is like a defective modem or manually connect LAN cable. The technology used in that product at the time if applied to mobile devices and appliances even today, would turn out revolutionary. Yet, that product got sold to a services conglomerate because the shareholders thought that this product wasn’t making money and they didn’t want to burn anymore on a *dying product*. 

Product Success Depends on Office Politics
So, what makes products successful? Do best products really see the light of the day? As we celebrate the success of products like Amazon Go or Kuri or Pepper, we must remember what Golden Krishna once said: 
“So while we sometimes recall and retell technological history through effortless tales, the reality is that many meaningful technology accomplishments at the most influential companies are the result of successful internal political wins, a slow climb of convincing the right people in the right place at the right time that a good idea is actually good. What you see as a consumer is not truly the latest and greatest, but instead what managed to squeeze through the available channels, and somehow convince enough influencers in the company that they wouldn't get fired for agreeing to approve it.”

Next time, when you see great products come to life, remember it was the work of a courageous bunch of people who stuck to their guns because they dreamt of a better world for themselves and the rest of the world.

This article was originally published on Linked In.