The front page of Street Technologies’ expensive 8.5 x 11″ corporate opus posed the following challenge: “How to eliminate half your work force.”The inside of the brochure provided the means to rise to the task: “Get the other half to use your software!” When it was pointed out to the president of Street Technologies that a marketing campaign designed to create mass unemployment and spark a brutal Darwinian struggle for personal survival in its target audience might not be the most effective of all possible approaches, he airily dismissed the issue saying “the piece was not aimed at the employees bu the bosses.” He’d apparently not considered the issue of who was going to be opening the mail.
As a somewhat lurid deep dive into the history of Silicon Valley, Merrill Chapman’s In Search of Stupidity argues quite convincingly that most high growth tech companies fail for non-technical reasons. Marketing mis-steps, mostly.
More or less from the beginning of time (or the 1970s to be exact) most of the relatively big names in Silicon valley dropped out of the limelight one by one, usually because of product marketing mistakes. For example, the stories of former Valley darlings Digital Research, MicroPro, Ashton Tate, Borland, Novell, Netscape make it pretty clear that there could be a pattern, even though these are just anecdotes.
He also includes a number of mistakes of technology companies that still exist, having been able to recover from early stumbles. In effect, he argues that companies like Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel succeeded despite their bad marketing decision, having been able to minimize the downside somehow or turn the situation around. Overall, it’s an eye-opening and entertaining read, if not a bit pessimistic about the reality of what happens in technology companies.
Usually, when discussing this with friends, this discussion goes in the direction of citing a Promethean conflict between the “geeks” and the “suits”. Two different worldviews. And usually two different departments, not speaking or communicating with one another.