The fanfare was massive. In a lengthy 2001 Time article, Segway inventor Dean Kamen said the device would “be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.” Steve Jobs called it “as big a deal as the PC.” Not to be outdone, investor John Doerr mused it could be “bigger than the Internet,” predicting the company would be the fastest in history to reach $1 billion in revenue.
We know how the story ends. The company built a factory capable of producing 40,000 units per month. It took them six years to sell 30,000 total. In 2009, Segway Inc was sold to a conglomerate led by Jimi Heselden. Heselden died less than a year later, when he accidentally drove his Segway off a cliff.
Segway followed Geoff Moore’s classic Crossing the Chasm pathway: the avid innovators and early adopters didn’t translate into mainstream sales. And, in hindsight, the company’s downfall seems inevitable.
As fun as it is to ride on a Segway, the bottom line is that you look like a dork on one. And not just any old dork, either; you look like a conspicuous dork. The Segway makes you bigger and taller, so everyone can see you looking like a dork, even the folks way in the back.
When everyone around us is mocking the new toy, we’re unlikely to buy one ourselves. I’m one of the cool kids laughing at the Segways, not one of the dorks riding one! Also, I want people to notice me – WAIT, NOT LIKE THAT…
History repeats. The same pattern played out 10 years ago with Google Glass, only worse. By the time sales opened to the public, “the very idea of owning a Google Glass device had already been lampooned to death... it was social and financial suicide to buy [one], and it hadn’t even hit the shelves yet.”
This is basic human psychology. The evolutionary goal is for people to want to mate with us. For that to happen, we need to stand out -- but not too much, and only in ways that increase our perceived status or appeal. As Scott Galloway says, “We’re highly discerning about what we put on our face, as it must enhance, not impair our ability to assert dominance, attract mates, and make connections… There is no version of a headset or goggles that makes us seem more appealing. None."
When they call people using your product “Glassholes” and create Tumblrs making fun of them, you know you’re in trouble. The dork factor is too high. Glass was pulled from the market less than nine months after launch.
Fast-forward to the present. A week ago, Apple launched Vision Pro. And here’s where you tell me I’m wrong.
But Kaila, launch shipments sold out in 18 minutes! I hear they’ve sold more than 200,000 units! That’s SEVEN HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS IN REVENUE! You’re right. How can I possibly claim that a product that generates nearly a billion dollars in its first week is doomed to failure?
I guess it depends on your definition of success. I certainly didn’t generate nearly a billion dollars last week, so… good for Apple. And people say the experience is stunning -- that it’s hard to go back to the real world once you’ve used one.
But there are 900 million iOS users in the world, many of them diehard fans. Surely it’s not that hard to get 0.02% of them to be early adopters?
No, the definition of success that I’m using is, will it be a thing? I’m going out on a limb and saying no.
You’re gonna have a problem. The dork factor is just too high.