In business, as in so many other things, everything starts with an ideain which time and money are invested, until you are ready to release it and watch, almost helplessly, to see if it swims or drowns.
Some do more than swim; they skyrocket, as in the cases of Facebook and Amazon.
But many fail, for a variety of reasons, and it’s not always because they were flawed.
Technology enthusiasts often cite the case of Sony’s Betamax video system because, while widely hailed as superior to VHS, it couldn’t compete with its rival due to lack of marketing prowess.
Thus, other of the most successful companies have also been responsible for some of the biggest failures. What happened?
Named by Time magazine as one of the best inventions of 2012, Google Glass was a project that was passionately backed by Sergey Brinco, co-founder of the search engine giant.
And it was not surprising: it was about a device that looked like something out of a science fiction movie.
They were high-tech glasses with a heads-up display in which information scrolled along the wearer’s eye line, all activated by voice commands or gestures.
With them, you would be able to find your path guided by the map superimposed on your reality; your messages would simply appear before your eyes; with just a gesture you would take photos or film; a voice command would communicate with whoever you wanted.
The product was created in the midst of a clamor for portable computing, something that was always on.
But while Google Glass’s utility and image were appealing, privacy concerns around the user being able to film and photograph others without being noticed proved its undoing.
The idea that you were being filmed without your knowledge turned out to be too intrusive.comfortableto for the people.
Businesses, from restaurants to movie theaters, were also not drawn to the prospect of their customers wearing camera glasses.
Three years after its launch, Google Glass was scrapped.
The project was revived in 2017 with Glass at Work, an offer aimed not at the mass public but at companies, useful, for example, for giving real-time notifications in medical environments or QR code scanning.
But attempts to revive the idea were not enough to keep it alive. In March 2023, Google put an end to its futuristic glasses.
Discovered by scientists from the American company Procter & Gamble in the 1960s, Olestra was a fat substitute that was not absorbed into the body.
Tested on cakes, donuts, and ice cream, it reduced calorie count by up to 50%.
It promised to be a panacea for dieters, who could enjoy themselves without suffering the consequences, and for the multinational, which would become even richer.
But the comments on Olestra’s subsequent essays were disastrous and very sickening.
“Everyone had the same complaint,” explains food scientist Peter Berry Ottaway, “anal leakage that comes out of the rectum without any control“.
The product seemed to have hit a dead end, but Procter & Gamble reformulated it to focus on salty snacks and, in 1990, applied for US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
Approval came six years later, but products using Olestra had to claim that they could cause abdominal cramps and loose stools.
Consumers were initially undaunted and better medical results on side effects began to emerge.
But an ongoing vociferous campaign against the use of Olestra by CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) and the fact that the product became the butt of jokes by comedians on American television spelled the end. of Olestra.
“Really it was a public relations battlesays millionaire and entrepreneur Sam White.
Putting himself in the shoes of Procter & Gamble, he declared: “I would have kept fighting.”
Launched in 1985 in Dallas, Texas, the Blockbuster video store, which stands for bestseller, lived up to its name for nearly 30 years.
At its peak, in 2004, he movie rental giantno arrive have 9.000 stores worldwide84,000 employees and nearly $5.9 billion in revenue.
But in the year 2000 he had made a serious mistake: he passed up the opportunity to buy Netflix.
The American streaming platform had been founded in 1997, and began by offering a DVD rental service through the postal mail.
Netflix offered to Blockbuster to add a component onlines to its tape and DVD rental operation, in exchange for the video company dedicating a space in its stores to Netflix.
Blockbuster declined this and another series of potential deals with Netflix, which became its main threat.
Was the decisive moment of the fall.
“It’s very easy for people to become intoxicated with success and start believing that nothing will get in the way, which is not the case in my experience,” White observes.
Blockbuster had been interested in offering its own streaming services.
This approach changed after 2005, when the media giant Viacom sold Blockbuster out of its portfolio, loading it up with debt. A subsequent buyout by “activist investors” steered the company away from innovation.
In 2010 he filed for bankruptcy.
4. Friends Reunited
Launched by computer engineer Julie Pankhurst and her husband Steve in July 2000, the Friends Reunited website helped people track down their old school friends.
Social media forerunner and market leader of the nostalgiathe initial growth of the site was extremely modest.
But after the site was mentioned on a BBC radio show, Friends Reunited took off and by the end of 2002 had attracted 8 million users.
The inevitable transition from free to paid subscription did not dampen the enthusiasm, nor did the bad press, fueled by stories of old school friends having affairs and maligned teachers.
Friends Reunited remained unscathed until its sale to British television channel ITV in 2005 for 175 million of sterling pounds.
The takeover was a flop and in 2009 ITV divested the site for just £25 million.
The network had overpaid for a central piece of its digital strategy despite being “a business that culturally just wasn’t in the right place,” according to White.
Despite his drastic turnaround in fortunes, the businessman believes that Friends Reunited “could have taken on the Facebooks of this world.”
The C5 electric trike (with pedal assist) was a single-seater vehicle introduced to much fanfare on January 10, 1985.
It was advertised as the future of transportation: a non-polluting machine, capable of taking a driver where they need to go, replacing oversized and inefficient cars.
Conceived by Sir Clive Sinclair, it promised to be another of the celebrated inventor’s successful creations, on a par with the first electronic pocket calculator and his popular ZX Spectrum home microcomputer.
But, along with the DeLorean (made famous in the “Back to the Future” movies), the C5 ended up being one of the most spectacular transportation flops of the 1980s.
However, things went downhill almost from the start.
The vehicle had an image problem almost instantly. The press and the public saw the C5 less as a new mode of transportation and more as an expensive toy.
It had gone from drawing board to prototype without any market research.
In addition, he was criticized for security reasons because he was extremely short, which made him practically invisible for other vehicles
The fact that it could be operated by anyone over the age of 14 without a license or helmet seemed to be a plus, but it was cause for concern.
The poor reception meant that orders were minimal and production ceased around eight months later.
Despite almost universal derision, the C5 still has a cult following.
And, with advances in battery technology, as well as electronic control systems for safety and stability, along with the appetite for alternatives to gasoline-powered cars, some specialists are wondering if the Sinclair C5 arrived 30 years before its time.
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