So, I was watching this new documentary on HBO, “The inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.” I had missed out on the whole Theranos saga when it was playing out in the news, and so I thought I would catch up on it via this piece. And boy! I was not disappointed. While it focused on a how a charming, smart but devilishly manipulative “inventor” duped a lot of investors into a novel but futile venture, I just noticed a simple thing transpire behind it all, i.e., a rushed incomplete product, or for that matter an ill-conceived idea behind a good purpose.
Elizabeth Homles had this grand vision of small fridge types machines doing complete blood work, which she thought she could deliver but then she couldn’t. It seemed like her plan was that, let us build a prototype and then along the way, it will just catch fire, and she will have a product one day. Sure, it might not be perfect, which tech product is? But some magical forces of funding coupled with market demand and good scientists and engineers will get it done. Well, it turns out the technology was just not ripe for it ¹, let alone building a product around it.
It is just another familiar telltale in a series of half-baked, rushed, and inadequately validated products. When products get released like this, there is a multitude of consequences. There is a cost to such endeavors. Sometimes these costs are dire and incalculable.
While Theranos might be an outlier because of deceptive practices behind it, there are some mainstream instances to look at.
Twisted Apple Maps
Remember this fiasco?² Wasn’t it enough that users are buying the exorbitantly costly phone, that Apple had to load it with terrible unusable apps too?
The release of Apple Maps on iOS6 was greatly acknowledged as a competitive move by Apple against Google, that ended up in a colossal blunder. The company not only took hit on its stock but also on its brand. One-liners and bar-jokes ridiculing¹⁷ Apple’s prestigious engineering and product management practice made rounds in Silicon Valley. Some heads inevitably rolled ³, but does that ever equate to the multifaceted loss such moves cause?
But then again, one can say, “hey! It’s just an app”. We can quickly bounce from it by fixing it all in the next iteration and giving users time to gain our trust again. Well, tell that to users!
A wet Tesla Model 3
We got an electric car out there that looks sweet and runs even sleeker. Great! But never mind the minor inconvenience the poorly designed overlooked design features such as trunk doors that can help us keep the trunk nice, wet and damp.⁴
How do we explain such significant oversights considering how much effort is put into these cars? Is it a quality issue or a design flaw in the product? The answer depends on who we talk to.
Samsung’s fold’n break phone
To what length will a company go to “market test” an absolute novelty of a consumer electronics and be the first one out there. Samsung has 23% share in the smartphone market. Many loyal users even swallowed the hard pill on Galaxy Note 7 bullet ⁵ ⁶. When I first heard Samsung was coming out with a folding phone, I curbed my enthusiasm because of the previous fiasco. I wise man once told me,” Never buy the version of anything”. And behold, the folding phone was a Class A screw-up.⁷
Within weeks, the device goes from getting bad reviews to multiple complaints about the phone not folding seamlessly ⁸, to outright breaking ⁹ to Samsung delaying the launch ¹⁰ and then allowing returns ¹¹. Apparently, the device was just not implemented well from the grounds up ¹² ¹³. Brand hit is the least of the worries here.
Again, where does the fault rest? This one seems to be a cautionary tale and the one that has the potential of leaving a black spot on the entire smartphone industry ¹². And now consumers will approach new folding phones very cautiously.
Can we say just if the phone does not fold well, then it’s not a folding phone?
This one was serious. We all know lives are at stake in aviation. We cannot undo launches or returns these “planes” to the nearest shop as if they were phone devices.
When an automated system designed to help the plane avoid stalling is faulty, is not thoroughly tested and does not give feedback to the human pilot, what recourse does that pilot have? ¹⁴
The company refused to acknowledge a fault product because of the hit to its sales pipeline ¹⁵. And now hundreds are dead, the company’s not-so brand-new product is sitting with unfilled orders, and the company brand is in tatters.¹⁴ Ultimately, it all came down some hardware that was never tested and a software update that should have been rolled out in the first place, before people died. ¹⁶
Luckily for aviation companies, teleportation is not yet a reality!
A quote from a Boeing shareholder hit the message:
“We don’t have to have 300-plus people die every time to find out that something is unreliable.” ¹⁴
And that is the essence of product development with quality. The riskiest items should go through the most rigorous of evaluations. NASA has had its share of failures, but it mostly succeeds because of its principle for building multiple layers of redundancies in the systems. If a proven approach is out there, it behooves us to adopt and build upon it. And if there isn’t one, then we need to exercise First Principles, set the bar even higher, and enable even more exceptional product quality and reliability.
A takeaway list of the consequences of incomplete products and services is way too long to mention, but the crux of it all is that it ultimately affects people. Innovation that falls short, bad design and untested features in products and services have a bearing on the people whose livelihoods and careers are attached to these on one end. And at the other end, consumers and users of the same offerings get hurt as frustrations fester given the money they parted have with, they lose faith in the market’s ability to provide meaningful innovation and in more unfortunate cases their lives are disrupted. We need to remember that in certain cases like Boeing, some consequences are irreversible.
When building products, we need to hold ourselves responsible for its failure. And some risks just cannot be messed around with. We have to account for them, evaluate them, and tackle them early on. We have to address them head-on and early, because the investor money, employees time, user’s trust, and our credibility to innovate, are all fair game.
 News, A. B. C. “What Biden Saw at Theranos Was’ completely Fake,’ Former Employee Says.” ABC News. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://abcnews.go.com/Business/elizabeth-holmes-theranos-devices-working-made-mistakes-dropout/story?id=60863557.
 Coppelman, Alyssa. “Welcome to the Warped World of Apple Maps.” Vantage (blog), November 10, 2015. https://medium.com/vantage/welcome-to-the-warped-world-of-apple-maps-bace0841b12a.
 Chen, Brian X., and Nick Wingfield. “Apple Fires a Manager Over Its Misfire on Maps.” Bits Blog (blog), November 27, 2012. https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/27/apple-fires-maps-manager/.
 “Tesla, World’s Most Innovative Car, Leaves The Most Absurd Flaw In Their Design That Leaves Your Trunk All Wet.” Bored Panda (blog). Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.boredpanda.com/tesla-model-3-design-flaw-rain/.
 “The Galaxy Note 7 is dead”. The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
 “Samsung permanently stops Galaxy Note 7 production”. BBC News. 11 October 2016.
Gilbert, Ben. “Samsung’s Wildly Ambitious $2,000 Folding Phone Is a Disaster for the Smartphone Giant — Here’s What Happened.” Business Insider. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/samsung-galaxy-fold-mess-explained-2019-4.
 “The Problem with the Galaxy Fold.” Engadget. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.engadget.com/2019/02/21/the-problem-with-the-galaxy-fold/.
 “Some of Samsung’s New Galaxy Fold Folding Phones Are Already Breaking.” USA TODAY. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2019/04/17/samsung-foldable-phone-some-galaxy-fold-devices-already-breaking/3502769002/.
 “Samsung Delays Galaxy Fold Phone Launch over Screen Problems.” NBC News. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/samsung-delays-galaxy-fold-phone-launch-over-screen-problems-n997321.
 “Broken Galaxy Fold Is Bad for Samsung — and Folding Phones | Fortune.” Accessed May 15, 2019. http://fortune.com/2019/04/22/samsung-galaxy-fold-breaking-folding-phone/.
 Bohn, Dieter. “Samsung Galaxy Fold Review: Why You Shouldn’t Buy It.” The Verge, April 19, 2019. https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/19/18498904/samsung-galaxy-fold-review-screen-broken-issue-durability-foldable-phone-video-performance-price.
 Wichter, Zach. “What You Need to Know After Deadly Boeing 737 Max Crashes.” The New York Times, March 22, 2019, sec. Business. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/business/boeing-737-crashes.html, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/business/boeing-737-crashes.html.
 Marcin, Tim. “Boeing Didn’t Want to Ground the 737 MAX Even After Pilots Urged Them To.” Vice News (blog), May 15, 2019. https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/xwng5k/boeing-didnt-want-to-ground-the-737-max-even-after-pilots-urged-them-to.
 “Boeing Never Tested the Failure of Critical AOA Sensor — CNN Video.” Accessed May 15, 2019. https://edition.cnn.com/videos/business/2019/04/30/boeing-737-max-aircraft-aoa-sensor-history-exclusive-investigation-griffin-dnt-lead-vpx.cnn.
 “How Bad Is Apple Maps? Bad Enough to Become an Internet Punchline.” The Mac Security Blog (blog), September 26, 2012. https://www.intego.com/mac-security-blog/making-fun-of-apple-maps/.