5min readBusiness 21 May 2018
I sometimes wonder if there is a graveyard for 'failed' inventions. You know those new technologies that are being talked about everywhere and sure to be 'the next best thing'.
When does something cease to be a 'next big thing' and slide away into oblivion?
I think it's worth looking at how an innovation becomes touted as 'the next big thing' in the first place. It typically begins in places like Silicon Valley with venture capitalists [VCs], who are always on the lookout for new, disruptive technology that will be their next Facebook or Apple – and become a billion-dollar company.
“Investors get involved, invest, then tout the next superfood until it is part of the zeitgeist," explained a venture capitalist recently to Bonnie Halper, technology expert and founder of Startup One Stop.
The truth is that VCs may have only one or two winners out of ten companies in their portfolio, if they are lucky. The most successful VC firms' investments are monitored by Silicon Valley and the press alike, with the assumption that past success is a good indicator of future success and increases the likelihood that the companies they invest in are likely winners.
A technology can be highly praised before it is even developed or hits the market. Then reality hits, or the company moves from concept to finally delivering their much-anticipated product or service, and it turns out not to be the next remarkable thing. Some fails are more epic than others.
Here is a look at 3 Failed Digital Innovations
Google Glass – an optical head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses, which was designed with the mission of producing a ubiquitous computer. A smartphone-like, hands-free format displayed information right within the glasses. The wearer could use voice commands to call up information via the connected internet.
“I had a friend who was an early 'Google Explorer' and he looked ridiculous as he walked around with his Google Glass – there's a reason why they called them Glassholes.' I did try them and told him that – like CD Roms of yore – they were a limited application technology, better served in the enterprise space. Which is exactly where they're being utilized," according to Halper.
While the technology was compelling, the price was prohibitive for consumers at $1500 a pair. The video camera capabilities raised privacy concerns resulting in some negative press, criticism and even prompting legislative action. The quirky look of users when wearing Google Glass added to their disappointing reception.
While Google Glass failed and was discontinued in 2017, as Halper notes, there is a recognized need for them in large corporations and institutions; an enterprise version was recently released.
"The Segway certainly has a cool factor, both in its underlying technology which achieves balance using tilt sensors, and gyroscopic sensors." Photo Courtesy of Entity Magazine
The Segway – is a two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter invented by prolific inventor Dean Kamen and marketed as a Personal Transporter. The Segway certainly has a cool factor, both in its underlying technology which achieves balance using tilt sensors, and gyroscopic sensors, which can reach a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour.
While touted as the next big thing in transportation, the Segway's price and its uniqueness proved too challenging. At $5000 a unit, it was a luxury item for most consumers. On par with the cost of a used car, it offered less reliable transportation options. The company projected sales of 50,000 to 100,000 Segways in the first year, but only 6,000 were sold in the first two years.
As an early adopter, Peter Shankman discovered that riding it in NYC was problematic – one police officer told him to ride on the street, then another shooed him from the street and told him he belonged on the sidewalk, while yet another told him that its uses wasn't permitted at all.
While a failure with consumers, as was the case with Google Glass, the Segway has found some use at the enterprise level. It has been adopted by some municipalities for use by its police force, enabling them to patrol more of their precinct more quickly than they could on foot.Quick Response Codes [QR Codes] – are a type of two-dimensional barcode. Originally designed for the automobile industry in Japan, QR codes, we were promised, were going to revolutionize business with applications ranging from business cards to restaurants to directions to museums and beyond.
As a machine-readable label, QR Codes were essentially barcodes that contain information that can be accessed by scanning them with a specially designed reader. The first obstacle to adoption of QR Codes, was that one had to install a reader on their phone. Maybe this wouldn't be an obstacle today, but back in 2000 when they were first introduced, mobile phones weren't as feature-rich as they are today and consumers weren't accustomed to downloading apps as they are today.
The other problem with QR Codes was the inconsistent results that users encountered – not from the technology, but from the company's hyping their use.
Prospects and customers were cheered on as if they would be winning the lottery, and after jumping through a hoop to get the reader installed, then scanning the code, the hype lead to disappointment and frustration.
Users often found a regular coupon for a mere 10 percent off; not a prize worth the effort they had just put in to claim it.
QR Codes were seen on billboards, yet, there was no tangible way for a motorist to scan the QR Code – certainly not while driving. A phone number on a billboard still works easier than this recent technology reported to make it easier to access information, that created more work to use it.
QR Codes, or customized variations of them, have been co-opted by Snapchat very successfully. By creating their own version of a QR Code, and building a reader into their camera, Snapchat overcame prior obstacles and made them cool within their own ecosystem.
Eventually, all smartphones came equipped with QR code readers, but the public wasn't sold on their use and neither were companies. The Snapchat application is a unique success story for QR Codes. Otherwise, they have been a commercial failure.
Venture capitalists only expect 10 -20 percent of their companies to become successful, so despite touting something as the next best thing, they know that a number of stars need to be aligned for a digital innovation to succeed beyond the hype and attain that status. A winner isn't always based on the best technological innovation, but on several factors from ease of use, timing, to the right influencers singing its praises.
Some digital innovations weren't true failures, however, they failed to gain wide adoption with the general public. As Halper explained, “Google was founded by techies – techies don't put themselves into the shoes of civilians."
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.