If you’re going to make a new product, there are a set of business rules around how to do that. You do things like market research, focus groups, market sizing, revenue opportunity analysis, blah blah blah. These techniques are great at weeding out crummy ideas, especially the kind that technical people are excited about – say nuclear-powered cars – but whose flaws are not visible to the inventors so they can’t see that the market would be limited because they’re blinded by enthusiasm around how useful they would personally find the product.
The problem with “the rules” is that there are some things they can’t properly measure. Sure, they can tell you if cup-holders are a good idea in a car, or if shampoo based on monkey pee will be perceived as good for your hair (hey, there was beer shampoo not too long ago). They don’t work as well for what can be called “white space” products. These are products people often don’t see a need for until they experience the product because nothing exists in that space (or at least nothing they are familiar with). How many of us thought there was value in the internet before someone showed it to us, or we personally used it? Didn’t you know in 1994 that you “needed” to order a pizza with your computer?
With OneNote, we skipped all the rules because we just “knew” it would be valuable and if we could get it to market effectively it would even be successful. Of course, this wasn’t obvious to everyone. In early 2001 as I tried to recruit people for the team (and helped my new counterparts in dev and test sell their candidates), I fielded a lot of questions about why we needed a new tools for “notes”. I heard from them and others in Office that building a new app was unnecessary, was dumb, redundant, etc. Of course, they didn’t see the “vision” J. Actually, even as we went to beta in 2003 and needed to hire a replacement test manager, one of the best candidates declined because “you will get cancelled”. Whatever.
The last 15 months (basically from our announcement date of Nov 17, 2002 at Comdex) have been one long “I told ya so”, although I am not one to gloat – I view it more as a curious experiment. Besides, aside from the great response from the press and early adopters which has flabbergasted the team and myself, we are a long way from being successful yet. It turns out even with the resources of a company like Microsoft, getting the general population aware of any new product is a Herculean task. No Superbowl ads for us.