Success calls for great many celebrations; and at the same time failure makes up with great many learning lessons.
We all know the biggest technological miracles of our generation, and the hard work that has gone into them. But for every Apple, Google, Netflix or Tesla, there have been many collapsing tech companies relegated to the pages of history.
Here we take you through the (could have been great) 5 who did not make it, and what they can teach us about business, technology, and innovation.
Kodak Moment – Frozen In Time
Founded in the year 1829 by two visionary Americans, Kodak defined, and indeed created, the process of photography. It sold cheap cameras, and made its profits from the films that people repeatedly bought. Through a combination of market dominance and advertising, Kodak soon became a household name.
Its biggest weapon, however, was its play to sentimentality – everyone wants to capture and hold on to special moments, and Kodak allowed just that. Soon, the company’s name became the general word for camera and photography.
But Kodak lulled itself into a false sense of security.
When Japanese camera maker Fuji entered the American market, Kodak refused to compete, convinced that the American public would never abandon them. It even turned down the opportunity to become the film sponsor of the 1984 Olympics.
In another fatal decision, Kodak, which produced the world’s first digital camera, dropped the project. It feared that a digital camera would compromise its revenue from photo films. As you can guess, photo films did go out – and Kodak was left behind as others entered into the digital photo market. In 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy, and is in a struggle to survive even today, plagued by allegations of corporate mismanagement.
The Lesson –
It is ironic that despite pioneering the technology, Kodak eventually failed because it failed to digitalise. The company has shown us that even a household name cannot assure customer loyalty in the face of better and more affordable options. Lack of risk-taking is the same as taking too much risk – the end result is failure.
Tech companies need to keep innovating to survive.
Apple Maps – Where On Earth Am I?
Even the technology’s golden child has had some F grades. One of the world’s most valuable company, Apple is a rare brand to have produced both hardware and software in-house. The only exception to this was the travel and commute direction app, for which iProduct users had to rely on Google Maps.
Apple was apparently not keen in the promotion of its rivals, and decided to launch its own Maps service in 2012. The problem emerged within days. Whole areas remained unmapped, wrong turns and directions were indicated, and the graphics were so horrendous that people were simply unable to understand what was going on.
Apple has been accused of many unethical practices, and has maintained stony silence for most. However, Apple Maps had struck right at the heart of what Apple cared about the most – user experience. This prompted an apology from Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The Lesson –
In a rare misstep, Apple had bitten off more than it could chew. The success of Google Maps came from the fact that the company had collected data from millions of people, from all across the world, over a long period of time. Apple tried to pace up that process with limited resources, and faced disaster.
Though Apple Maps have improved considerably, the damage is permanent. Most iPhone users today still prefer the Google version.
Theranos – Wishing The World Better
Elizabeth Holmes was once considered a Silicon Valley prodigy. At 19, she had founded a company that peaked at 9 billion dollar value. Her company Thernaos claimed that it could conduct blood tests just with a drop of blood, and the machines were very easy to use and so small that they could be placed at any pharmacy.
It sounded too good to be true – medical care finally at the reach of your fingertips. It unfortunately wasn’t.
A wall street journal report, backed by two medical professors, showed that what Theranos claimed was practically impossible. Theranos then shut down in 2019.
The Silicon Valley has been the home to many companies that exaggerate, and sometimes even lie. What shocked the world was that Holmes essentially had no product, in fact no business that her lies would have protected. She just waded into the deep end, and was convinced by her own deception and that of those who profited alongside her.
The Lesson –
Technology is no doubt miraculous, but it cannot be taken at face value. Theranos taught an important lesson to the investors, media, and the public at large who love to fawn over the next big CEO. Without science, research and results, technology is just a dressed up fantasy.
Tech companies cannot be allowed to run unchecked.
Six Seconds Of Fame – Bye Vine
The millennials would remember – before Tiktok, there was Vine.
In the saturated market of social media, Vine brought in something new. It allowed users only six seconds to make an impression and become famous. The result was a number of hilarious challenges, memes and trends that became the backbone of Internet’s pop culture for a good chunk of the 2010s.
But it seemed that Vine’s creators did not have faith in the app, or were simply happy with a cash out. The company was sold to Twitter even before the app was released, and Twitter struggled to keep Vine’s momentum going. The app was eventually closed down in 2017, and its archive shut down in 2019.
The reason for this was the emerging competition, notably from Instagram’s video-making feature. The success of TikTok however, showed that people were still ready to spend time and effort on the short-format video content.
The Lesson –
Did Vine give up too soon? Some believe that had Twitter tried to innovate more, Vine could have survived and would have kept up its momentum, and eventually would have become what Tiktok is now.
Tech companies often have to contend with very risky environment, it mostly, does pay off. Vine created a momentum that was ultimately utilized by Instagram and TikTok.
Sun’s Not Shining On Solyndra Anymore
Renewable energy has become one of the most prioritized industries of the world, and for good reason. As humans continue to run out of conventional sources of power, companies that successfully capitalize on renewable energy resources have a lot to gain. Well, almost always.
Founded in 2005, Solyndra became known for its unusual technology, which consisted of cylindrical solar cells mounted on panels, sold for commercial rooftops. Solyndra used CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) technology, and seemed to be the answer to America’s energy problems. In 2009, it received 500 million dollars under US Department of Energy Loan Guarantee program.
Yet in 2011, the company was virtually ruined and filed for bankruptcy. Between 2009 and 2011, the price of polysilicon dropped by almost 80%. This was the chief material used in solar cells, and Solyndra’s CIGS technology could not compete, and one promising company went under.
The Lesson –
Solyndra’s failure can cast long shadows, especially as the company is under investigation for possibly lying to avail the government loan.
But, many believe that Solyndra was on the right path. Their novel technology provided the solution to many renewable energy problems.
Though the company did not work out and cost the taxpayers, the price for shirking away from renewable energy resources could be even higher in the long run. Solyndra scam is a good example for the need to create effective checks and policies around emerging green technology.
Can you think of other such Tech companies that failed to lift off? Do you think that companies fail because of inherent weakness, or do market forces are sometimes just too much? Let us know what you think!