Dr. Gary North – Better Launch a New Product Today Than Next Year
Guest post by Dr. Gary North
There is an old saying: “Don’t let the goal of perfection keep you from achieving the good.” I agree with it.
Here is what I learned from the great Japanese entrepreneur who ran Sony, Akio Morita. He adopted the corporate policy of introducing new products that were basically unrated products. Then he let consumers tell the company what improvements they wanted, what features they did not like, and so forth. Then he told his engineers to implement the recommended alterations made by consumers.
One of the most famous products of the 1980’s was the Sony Walkman. Morita knew that it wasn’t really ready for prime time when he released it. He didn’t care. He knew that it would be a popular product, and he knew that if the company listened to consumers, they could make it a classic product. Wikipedia reports:
The first Walkman prototype was built from a modified Sony Pressman, a compact cassette recorder designed for journalists and released in 1977.The metal-cased blue-and-silver Walkman TPS-L2, the world’s first low-cost personal stereo, went on sale in Japan on July 1, 1979, and was sold for around ¥33,000 (or $150.00). Though Sony predicted it would sell about 5,000 units a month, it sold more than 30,000 in the first two months.
The Walkman was followed by a series of international releases; as overseas sales companies objected to the wasei-eigo name, it was sold under several names, including Soundabout in the United States, Freestyle in Australia and Sweden, and Stowaway in the UK. Eventually, in the early 1980’s, Walkman caught on globally and Sony used the name worldwide. The TPS-L2 was introduced in the US in June 1980.
Three Walkman players, variously dating between 1984 and 1991
The 1980’s was the decade of the intensive development of the Walkman lineup. In 1981 Sony released the second Walkman model, the WM-2, which was significantly smaller compared to the TPS-L2 thanks to “inverse” mounting of the power-operated magnetic head and soft-touch buttons. The first model with Dolby noise-reduction system appeared in 1982. The first ultra-compact “cassette-size” Walkman was introduced in 1983, model WM-20, with a telescopic case. This allowed even easier carrying of a Walkman in bags or pockets. The first model with autoreverse was released in 1984.
In October 1985, the WM-101 model was the first in its class with a “gum stick” rechargeable battery. In 1986 Sony presented the first model outfitted with remote control, as well as one with a solar battery (WM-F107).
Within a decade of launch, Sony held a 50% market share in the United States and 46% in Japan.
I used one of them for two decades to do my recordings for my monthly interview series, Firestorm Chats. It was a Walkman professional. I still own it. It rests about 5 feet behind me on my standup desk. I can listen to cassette tapes that I recorded 35 years ago. It still sounds good. It made wonderful voice recordings.
The Walkman sold 250 million units – the most successful electronics product in history.
The key to sales were the headphones. Morita did not think that large, heavy headphones would be accepted by young users. Another branch of the company had invented small headphones three years earlier. That made the Walkman usable.
Harvard Business Review summarizes the Japanese strategy of innovation.
Japanese companies want information that is context specific rather than context free—that is, data directly relevant to consumer attitudes about the product, or to the way buyers have used or will use specific products, rather than research results that are too remote from actual consumer behavior to be useful. When Japanese companies do conduct surveys, they interview consumers who have actually bought or used a product. They do not scrutinize an undifferentiated mass public to learn about general attitudes and values.
READY, FIRE, AIM
Michael Masterson (aka Mark Ford) wrote a book, Ready, Fire, Aim on this strategy. It is better to launch early than to get things perfect.
I have been advising a member of this site on starting a website that teaches science courses to students from grades one through 12. It would be a multi-year project.
He has taught courses like this in the past. He used YouTube videos to help explain scientific principles. I think this is a good strategy. He has to search for effective teaching videos. When he finds one, he uses it.
I think a better way for him to teach is by producing his own YouTube videos on experiments: advertising hooks. I think he should do the same experiments. This would take more time.
I think he should get the site up as fast as he can. So, I recommend that he use YouTube videos that help explain a procedure or a concept. He should embed them in the appropriate lessons. But his long-term goal should be this: go back later and copy the other people’s videos. Do the same experiments on screen. This is not a copyright violation. It is simply appropriating an idea. An idea cannot be copyrighted.
This way, he gets income from his courses. He needs income. He has decades to go back and replace YouTube videos that other people produced.
Why should he do this? It will make his site more personal. It will present him as the expert in the field. This will create a better relationship with his students. But it is better to use other people’s YouTube videos to get the first course completed next year.
I recommend that you adopt this procedure. It is better to have your project 80% correct and on the market in a year than it is to have the product 90% correct, according to your standards, two years from now. Your standards may not be relevant to what consumers want. Let the consumers tell you how to improve the product.
That’s what I did with the Ron Paul Curriculum. We posted it on Membergate. Membergate was fine in 2005: cutting edge. By 2013, it was a mature product. The bugs were out of it. I didn’t want bugs in it. I wanted things to be smooth. But the RPC looks like a 2005 site. Some homeschool mothers complained. It is kludgy in terms of delivering the products. So, we have spent a lot of money to transfer all of the lessons to an up-to-date site, Thinkific. It will be easier to use, and it will look a lot better. For marketing purposes, it will be better.
We will keep the Membergate site as a backup. By now, I know about de-platforming. If you’re going to operate a moneymaking site, you had better have a backup site, just in case. You should be able to convert over to the new site within 24 hours. You have to pay for that: two sites.
I think most of the mothers will switch to the new format. My customer service lady thinks 100% of them will. I am more of a Pareto person. I think 80% of them will. We will give the parents the right to make the choice. That maintains the principle of consumer authority.
Conclusion: listen to the consumer, not your fears. Don’t pursue perfection when you can start making money with a product that is 80% ready for prime time. Take the money, and listen to the complaints. Then improve the product.
This article has been first published here: https://www.garynorth.com/members/21726.cfm