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Are you building a product for no one?

The Birth of the Digital Piano

If you listened to Stevie Wonder in the 70’s, you’ve likely heard a moog synthesizer. You know what I’m talking about, even if you’re not a Stevie fan – it was used in music from Diana Ross, the Doors and Simon & Garfunkel. Robert Moog was the inventor and brought a shift in music by introducing the moog synthesizer – what looked and sounded like an electric piano.

Years later, Moog and another gentleman, David Van Koevering (another famous inventor that worked on optical technology that lead to CD-ROMs), worked on another invention.

In the mid-to-late 90’s they created the Van Koevering Digital Piano. In collaboration with Microsoft, they put a computer in a piano. By all early accounts, it was amazing.

Don’t believe me? Check out this video.


I owned one

It won’t shock you to discover that I saw one in the Microsoft Museum on their campus in Seattle and went looking for where I could buy one.

And I did, just 4 years after they were introduced.

But instead of paying $12-15,000, I was able to buy one for $1200. Yes, at 10% of the original price.

Just 4 years after it was launched, it was selling for 10% of the list price as piano stores were trying, desperately, to get rid of them.

The Failure

The reason the product failed was simple, when looking back.

People who wanted a fancier piano discovered they had bought a computer.

People who wanted a fancier computer discovered they still needed to learn the piano.

The product was a nifty idea built for no one.

Piano players that didn’t like working with computers hated it. And people who loved computers and wanted it to do amazing things realized they were stuck because they didn’t know how to play the piano. Both groups were frustrated and returned the devices relatively quickly.

Why am I telling you this story? It’s about building a product…

It’s a cautionary tale about what happens when you try to create generic products that should appeal to everyone but end up appealing to no one.

Everyone wants to go after the largest market possible, but my recommendation is to make sure you look for segments – targeted, unique, and focused segments – that you know have specific problems you can solve.

If not, what sounds like a good idea and may even sell, could come back with high return rates and end up selling at 10% of the list price.

Not what you want.

It’s why I regularly recommend that you look at vertical markets so that you can clearly understand the nuances of the problems and pains that that segment is experiencing and you can solve it.

When you do that, you’ll create products that people want, like today’s version of the digital piano.

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