Lessons From Apple and Nissan–Learning The Game While Playing The Game – Forbes

Jeff Williams, chief operating officer of Apple Inc., speaks about the Apple Watch on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

As expected, there was a lot of fanfare around the Apple event on September 12th. Apple announced a new range of products including the iPhone X, which captured all the hype and news cycles with the $1000 price tag. In terms of innovation, the more interesting product for me was the next generation Apple Watch. The way Apple works on its product releases teaches innovators that they don’t have to get everything right the first time. Instead, we can do enough work to get into the game and then improve our product using market feedback.

Such an approach scares a lot of large companies; especially publicly listed ones. These companies want to get everything right before the launch. From the business plan, the marketing plan and the product itself, everything must be perfect. Once the product is launched the focus shifts exclusively to execution and scaling. There are no more lessons learned from customers after launch. This make every new product launch a high stakes event where the company either wins or loses. There is no option on the table to fail now and win with later versions of the product.

Start With Early Adopters

Apple’s general approach illustrates that there is no need to play this high stakes game early on. When the first iPod was launched in 2001 it was not a runaway success. Only 125,000 iPods were sold that year. The product was aimed at Apple customers with Macs and connected via FireWire. The iTunes store was also not part of the iPod ecosystem until 2003. Over time, the product evolved into various versions such as the iPod mini, eventually selling hundreds of millions of units.

In contrast, most large companies target the mass market from day one. This is a risky approach, since mass market consumers are more demanding compared to early adopters. Admittedly, starting with early adopters is easier for Apple because the company has a relatively large fanatical tribe of customers. However, this is does not mean that other companies can’t identify a group of early adopters for their new products.

According to Steve Blank, early adopters can be defined as a group of people who have the problem or need that your product solves, are aware of having that need, have been looking for a solution, have probably hacked up solutions of their own from bits and pieces, and have the budget to pay for your product. If a company can identify this group of people, they can target them with a new product launch. This might be a small group of customers compared to the mass market and the early numbers may look like the product has failed.

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