How I Killed A Product, Intentionally

In 2007 I was a working as a product manager for a now defunct company managing a suite of professional reference products.

If you didn’t click on that link ^ you should do so now, I will wait… crazy right!? I worked for the company that essentially signed off on Edward Snowden’s security clearance. For the record, I actually left before the Snowden stuff occurred but it was only to go work for another company which provided far more scary shit on everyone here in the United States— a story for another day.

While working for this defunct company our strategy guy signed a partnership deal with another company to provide a very similar product along with our own suite of products. The deal was essentially a rev share with serious financial penalties if we didn’t get something to market in a short timeframe but luckily no ramifications if it didn’t perform well.

The Problem: If the product performed well it would cannibalize our existing product revenue, which amounted to 20% of our total company revenue. This wasn’t realized by our strategy guy. This was not a good deal for us.

My Reaction: I was asked to integrate the product and take it to market — I then learned the details of the rev share agreement. This was a promising product but it was relatively unproven and we were taking an enormous financial risk. If it succeeded we were risking $35m in recurring revenue. So after several heated discussions I reluctantly agreed to build the product (again, we were obligated by the agreement) but deep down I knew this product could not succeed.

My solution: I gave it the dumbest name possible in the hopes that it would kill the entire concept. Seriously, I named it Refer-e.

Get it? Refer for reference. E for electronic. It was pronounced refəˈrē. You know, like an actual referee. I even insisted our marketing material have images of football referees just to drive home the point.

The result was a sales team embarrassed to even talk about it so the product never moved off the shelf.

Looking back, I’m not necessarily proud I worked for that company but I can’t help but smile when I think of that very stupid name and what it accomplished — or didn’t.

Lesson: Stupid product names have a place in this world. Sometimes they are unintentional, sometimes they have purpose and sometimes they are just funny as hell.

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