Fable: The Product That Didn’t Have A Market

There was once a very great man who founded a very great company.

The great man decided the company should make a new product – a handheld calculator.

Marketing were appalled. They were so sure there was no market for the calculator that they hired the Stanford Research Institute to do an analysis.

SRI’s report agreed with the marketing department. There was no market for the device.

The report was presented to the great man who said:

“Well I guess that gives us the go-ahead.”

The product was a stunning success in the market.

Moral: No one thinks there’s a market for something that doesn’t exist



  1. That’s a fascinating account, Steve, puts quite a different slant on it.

  2. Ha Ha Terry, very droll

  3. Wow, the animosity towards marketing here is gobsmacking. Allow me to reframe this discussion.

    Marketing comes to Bill Hewlett. They tell him that it is now within HP’s grasp to make a pocket scientific calculator using the newfangled metal-gate PMOS ICs. However, here are the facts as marketing sees it:

    1. SRI says there’s a small market. Perhaps they’re wrong. We need perhaps $20K to do a market survey of our engineering-heavy customer base to see if they’ll ditch their slide rules.

    2. When we build this calculator, we will essentially ship a $100 bill inside each one for a year until we get costs down.

    3. HP’s opto division says we can only get LED numeric displays for $10 per digit. You will need to put a few tens of millions of dollars into the division to beef up the assembly automation to produce the needed display volume and get costs down by half. You’ll also need a few tens of millions more to improve quality and yield on the basic red GaAs LED process.

    4. Despite all of this, we have a gut feeling we should go ahead and do this.

    My point? Marketing doesn’t get to make decisions like this on gut feel. The guy with his name on the building does. Bill Hewlett had a good gut feel for a lot of things (but not everything, he had to be conned into getting into computers). That’s why Hewlett ran the company with Dave Packard for nearly 40 years.

  4. Sounds par for the course to me, Dr Bob. Someone at my company put up the idea for a ‘microcomputer magazine’ in 1978 and the marketing people said they’d done research and there was no market for it. A few years later the shelves of W H Smith were groaning with PC mags.

  5. Yes. Away with the fairies, Stooriefit

  6. I have a very jaundiced view of Marketing departments starting my very first meeting in industry where 3 hours were taken to decide the colour of calibration doats on a cal curve. The decision was black which was the first suggestion from engineering in the first 5 minutes.

    Next was the targeted mail shot (in the US) to over 750 doctors, a 95% response rate and a ZERO followup because it “wasn’t their normal market”!!!

    Then a sales prediction for the same new product (medical again) which was for 100 – 200 units pre year if we were lucky. So no dedicated test equipment made. First month’s order exceeded that!!! Product sold off to a competitor before the year was out! (not our market!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

    Nothing ever changes

    Douglas Adams had it all summed up

    The Encyclopedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as “Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun to Be With.”

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as “a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes,” with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.

    Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as “a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came.”

    The motto of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is “Share and Enjoy.

  7. Yes indeed Steve, Bill Hewlett it was

  8. That would have been Bill Hewlett, who wanted a calculator like the desktop HP 9100 that would fit in his shirt pocket. It had to wait for the development of suitable MOS LSI capability.

  9. They don’t realise the extent of what they don’t know, AnotherDavid. And yes – a better Moral would have been ‘What do marketing departments know?’

  10. Or possibly what do marketing departments know?

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