Learning from Failed Product Launches

Remember the Pepsi Edge? Dr. Pepper Berries & Cream? How about Coke C2? They all have one thing in common: complete failures.

Despite market research and more money than we startup founders can ever dream of having, the big guys are also prone to disastrous product launches. A recent HBR article “Why Most Product Launches Fail” sheds some light on why this happens. Here’s what they say:

The Five Causes of Flops

  1. The company can’t support fast growth
  2. The product falls short of claims and gets bashed
  3. The new item exist in “product limbo”
  4. The product defines a new category and requires substantial consumer education – but doesn’t get it
  5. The product is revolutionary, but there’s no market for it

What About Startups?

A product launch is different from a company launch, but especially for web and software startups they are typically one and the same. So although the five elements HBR outlined in their article, startup founders should also lookout for other indications of potential failure in the horizon. In “18 Mistakes that Kill Startups“, Paul Graham covers the basics. If you’re going to read only one article about startup failures, you can’t go wrong with Graham. 

For a VC perspective on startup failures, David Feinleib at Mohr Davidow Ventures has a good list. And ChubbyBrain posted a nice analysis of startup failures post-mortem. Read, learn, avoid death. Good luck!


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