Jiva Technology

Timing is everything … or not.

One of the annoying features of building a web company is that having the right idea is not enough. You have to have it at the right time.

A case in point from the Morgan Stanley Dean Witter European Internet Report of June 1999:

“As of 6/9/99, Boo.com had yet to launch it’s website, but has been getting a reported 60,000 hits a day in anticipation of it’s much publicised launch. Boo has promised to feature leading edge 3-D imagery of its offerings, superior customer service(complete with Miss Boo, a cyber-sexy fashion consultant/customer service rep) and delivery capability forhigh-end sportswear, footwear and outerwear, as well as sports, culture and style – but no discounts on retail prices”.

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I know that this report came out just before the frenzied peak of the dot com boom, because I was enjoying/enduring an IPO at the time. Looking back, there are a few things that stand out apart from the two obvious reasons for failure (they were spending money too fast and they were launching a product that was designed for 2014 internet speeds, not 1999 internet speeds). First, they ‘sort of’ got the idea right and definitely got the timing wrong. But that ‘sort of’ got it right is almost as important as the timing. Who needed a 3-D depiction of the clothes that was so bandwidth heavy? Who needed a cyber-sexy fashion consultant? I mean I get away reasonably well on my own walking into a real shop and buying something without someone providing fashion advice (those of you who know me – no comment required on that last statement).

It seems to me that more important than getting their timing wrong was the fact that they didn’t understand what they were trying to do. What would the customer value? Was it speed, was it convenience, was it access to otherwise unreachable goods? Amazon succeeded because it was good at raising investment money and it (really) understood what the customer might value. Everything else got dropped.

So it seems to me that whilst timing is important, what is more important is understanding the attributes of the product that a customer really values and dispensing with everything else. Pretty basic marketing, I suppose.

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