Crying over Broken Glass

Volume 17 Letter 1

“Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door” said Ralph Waldo Emerson in the late nineteenth century. The statement, at times the mantra of scientists and engineers, contains a fatal flaw as it violates the first principle of marketing. If one expects to sell a mouse trap and make a return on investment, it’s imperative, prior to investing time, effort and money, to determine that there is, in fact, a mouse problem. Google, the giant search engine phenomenon, forgot this principle when they developed their marvel of engineering, Google Glass. Google Glass is a stark reminder that no matter how much money you have and no matter how awesome your product may be – if it doesn’t fill a customer need, you still have nothing!

Google embarked on a mission to develop a ubiquitous computer that users could wear and display information hands free. The result was Google Glass, an optical display mounted on a pair of glasses that connected users to the internet via voice commands. Gadget magazine described Google Glass as “A fascinating innovation” that “has more potential than any new device category we’ve seen.” The media was all abuzz but in the end Google Glass was ………well just that ……buzz. A fantastic marvel of modern engineering that just couldn’t find a market.

The internet age has ushered in crowd sourcing as a way of solving complex problems. A company will describe a challenge and ask outsiders to present their solutions. This method of problem solving has proven to be very effective. In a twist on this same methodology, Google Glass launched to a group known as “Explorers” in 2013 asking these “Explorers” to help them find a market for their highly praised solution. The initiative failed to uncover any clear customer needs or potential markets for the device. Undeterred, Google Glass pressed forward and in 2014, without a clear strategy or a clear market, Google launched Google Glass to the public. After less than a year in the market and with close to zero sales Google Glass stopped production in Jan 2015. What went wrong and what lessons can we learn?

  1. No matter how brilliant the R&D, it still needs a market
  2. Determining the market needs and the market size is as difficult as doing the R&D and like R&D needs investment
  3. Starting any R&D project without a clear understanding of the market is guesswork….and guesswork is dangerous especially when money and careers are involved.
  4. Though they may often dislike each other, Engineering and Marketing really do need each other!

By developing a product with no clear vision of a market, Google Glass broke the first principle of marketing and that is to first find a customer need and then build to suit rather than the other way around. As Steven Covey reminded us, “you can’t break principles; you can only break yourself upon them”. Google broke a lot of glass upon them.

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