An upcoming and splashy event looms – time to market. We are in the fall show season and it shows. So the new product isn’t really tested past a slick prototype, but the brochures must get to the printers NOW. Why? CES (or Connected Health, ATA, or the mHealth Summit) is on the calendar and innovation is expected, no actually, innovation is mandated. For the price of a booth, press release, brochures, a demo device and all travel costs, marketers must market. Whether the product works? Not important for demo purposes. Does anyone need the offering? See the hype for 2010 launch of Healthrageous and now see the 2013 shutdown.
But will the product work or be available within a reasonable timeframe after hype? How long after the original and costly demo, was the supposed first scheduled ship date? Were the engineers bullied into handing off an untested prototype for the show as may have been the case with Philips GoSafe? Or was the organizational mire of big companies too much baggage? Remember Lifecomm -- forever almost ready to sell? And what good was being part of Verizon for SureResponse? That was yet another ludicrous launch, in which a supposedly available product was not only unavailable -- the only online materials to be found turned out to be support documentation.
And if it works will someone buy it? And if it does work, will its design actually appeal to its intended audience or is the marketplace just not ready for it? Remember 2009’s launch of fall detector Wellcore – renamed a PERS device after noticing that no one shops for fall detectors. Remember the GPS shoe 2011 hype – well, it is quietly back, but with wrist-enabled PERS watches and other wearable trackers, how strong is the market for a $299 pair of shoes? And another example: is there a consumer market for Lively’s attractive sensors placed around a senior home? To date, no sensor-based senior home monitoring company has proven that this market is growing and sustainable. In fact, it is unproven that those who most recognize the need and benefit from the product will actually buy it.
It’s okay – most companies fail, leaving behind only their press releases. Reviewing the history of hype should be required pre-work for prospective new market entrants. Years ago, it was common folklore set into concrete by the Small Business Administration that 90% of all startups fail (now, says a Harvard professor, maybe it is 75% if VC-funded). When the 90% number was institutionalized, a startup was a company with investors, management team, engineers, business plan, and go-to-market release schedule. Declaring failure was a date certain when money was gone. Along the path, founders fled a slowly-dwindling number of employees, office space, marketing and sales resources. Finally the remaining assets were swept into another firm or sold. What’s left, however, are the lessons to be learned and still stored in a graveyard database of launch announcements. To prospective startups, go forth and study PRWeb, PRNewswire, Business Wire and similar. Look for the word 'launches' and a category that matters to you. Was the product conceived at that point? Developed? Demo only? Is it better to remain stealth as ideas are vetted, problems are found and debugged, small pilots are conducted, feedback is collected and rolled back into the product, thus spending investor money slowly and cautiously? Or is it better to create a big splash too early, spend too much on marketing demos, and then shut down the product's potential abruptly when the money is gone?