How to build a DOA product

Ars Technica

The Humane AI Pin has launched, crashed, and burned, with founders already looking to sell the company just one month after launch.
Humane, if you haven’t heard, is a company founded by two former Apple employees, Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, in 2018.
The product, the AI Pin, is sort of trying to be a Star Trek communicator.
The two founders apparently “preferred positivity over criticism, leading them to disregard warnings about the AI Pin’s poor battery life and power consumption.
A senior software engineer was dismissed after raising questions about the product, they said, while others left out of frustration.”
After that software engineer was fired for questioning if the AI pin would be ready for launch, the report describes a staff meeting where the founders “said the employee had violated policy by talking negatively about Humane.”
It’s hard to make a good product if you can’t honestly talk about the negatives and positives for fear of retaliation.
That $230 million in funding and $7 million in sales needs to cover five years of product development, manufacturing, server time, and paychecks for a peak of 250 employees.

NEGATIVE

After only one month of operation, the founders of The Humane AI Pin are already looking to sell the business. In addition to providing some updates on the company’s and the product’s sales, the New York Times article explains exactly how the company arrived at the decision to launch a dead-on-arrival product.

In case you missed it, Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno, two former Apple employees, founded Humane in 2018. The business was valued at $1 billion prior to launch and raised $230 million from well-known investors like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. Kind of like a Star Trek communicator, the product is called the AI Pin. It attaches magnetically to your shirt and allows you to tap it to activate voice commands. With a touch screen, battery, camera, speaker, and microphone, it is essentially just a voice assistant box—the founders took great pride in the fact that it has “no apps.”. There isn’t a conventional screen, but you can use gestures to control a wristwatch-like user interface projected onto your hand by a laser projector.

Humane wishes to maintain its pre-launch valuation in spite of the unfavorable response. “About a week after the reviews came out, three people with knowledge of the conversations said that Humane began talking to HP, the computer and printer company, about selling itself for more than $1 billion,” the report states. There are now more possible purchasers, but there have only been informal discussions and no formal sales procedure has started. “It’s quite ambitious to ask for $1 billion after only $7 million in sales, and you have to wonder what “casual” remarks they received regarding that price. I suppose it’s wise to get your negotiations off to a strong start. Who knows? HP has been duped into purchasing failing tech firms in the past, like Palm, which undoubtedly failed.

The Times spoke with “23 current and former employees, advisers, and investors,” and their anecdotes provide valuable insight into how a company can bring such an outdated, underperforming product all the way to market. The AI Pin’s short battery life and high power consumption were apparently ignored by the two founders because they “preferred positivity over criticism.”. They said that after raising concerns about the product, a senior software engineer was fired, and other engineers quit in annoyance. The report describes a staff meeting where the founders “said the employee had violated policy by talking negatively about Humane,” following the firing of the software engineer for asking when the AI pin would be ready for launch. If you can’t openly discuss the drawbacks and advantages of your product out of concern for backlash, it’s difficult to create a quality one.

But the founders’ inclinations toward “positivity” do not apply to the outside world. Following the product’s launch, Bongiorno called the team together and stated that the business would need to “lean into painful feedback” and referred to the reviews as “a gift that we’ve been given,” despite it seemed that he was not interested in hearing candid employee input during development. This way of thinking is flawed because, at this point in time, the product had just launched and was receiving the greatest amount of attention it would ever receive—nearly all of it negative. Despite employees “repeatedly asking” for the position to be filled, the company didn’t have a head of marketing until after launch, which may be contributing factor in part of the problem.

How much runway Humane still has is unknown. For five years, product development, manufacturing, server time, and salaries for a maximum of 250 employees must be covered by the $230 million in funding and $7 million in sales. There is still a chance to purchase the Pin for the standard $700–$800; otherwise, the remaining stock should be put up for fire sale.

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