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The Cardboard Desk: A New Product Launch Story

Are you launching a new product?

Launching a new product or service is scary. Whatever business you’re in, doing something different or new brings doubts and uncertainty.

Will it work?

Will it be what people want?

Will people buy it?

Have I wasted my time and my money developing it?

These are all valid questions but they should not dissuade you from launch.

The timing of a new product launch came up at a recent TAB Board Meeting and one of the members of that Board, Aaron Fox of TelXL used the following analogy to get his point over.

The Cardboard Desk: A New Product Launch Story

A furniture maker went to the office of one of his clients to find his client sat on the office floor trying to do his work. When he asked why he was doing that, he replied that he needed to use three screens at once and could not get them all on his desk. The furniture maker asked: “Why don’t I just make you a desk that will fit all of your screens and give you room to work?” The client was pleased and said that such a desk would be a massive help to him and cure his backache.

Armed with the knowledge of the client requirements, the aesthetics the client wanted, the certainty that there was a “need” and a customer willing to pay, the furniture maker returned to his workshop.

Six weeks later the desk was ready. It was a stunning mahogany desk with leather inlay, hand carved with the clients’ initials carefully placed into the office. The client was overwhelmed and delighted with it. However, when he tried to get his leather chair underneath the desk it would not fit. The maker had not taken into consideration the over-sized chair that his client liked and removed the desk, leaving the client frustrated and disappointed.

Two weeks later the desk was returned and the furniture maker proudly showed off the hydraulic lifting system he had now installed to enable the desk to be raised and lowered to accommodate the chair. His client set up all his screens on the desk and called his assistant into the room to see his new desk. His assistant pulled up his chair to the other side of the desk and banged his knees against the desk drawers. It was clear that the two of them needed to work together from either side of the desk and this was not going to work. A frustrated furniture maker removed the desk and returned to his workshop leaving a very disappointed client now questioning whether he needed to find a new furniture maker.

On returning to his workshop the furniture maker's daughter asked why they had not simply made the desk out of cardboard? They could have delivered it in 2 days and found out all the issues right from the start. The client could have used the cardboard desk (it was better than the floor), while they made a desk that fitted all of the client requirements. They could probably have even charged him more for the finished desk because it met all his needs.

What can business leaders learn?

You must be careful with the lessons from the story. Getting your product out early has to be well communicated to ensure that the client does not think it is the finished article (but it is certainly better than not having it). Equally, you cannot listen to every requirement from every client or you will end up with a never-ending list of requirements that increase costs exponentially.

At the end of the day the customer is the ultimate arbiter as to what works and what it’s worth. So, get your new product/service out there but communicate it is a version 1.0 and let your customers shape version 1.1 and 1.2. Let them see the cardboard desk and feedback what is needed for the next version. It will create loyal clients and premium pricing as the product/service develops.

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