Monday, July 8, 2013

Are you building a Concorde?

All of us know about the concorde - sorry, let me correct myself - about Concorde, right? You have to get it right, so I hear.

So here's what happened, broadly.

An Anglo-French JV (AĆ©rospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation) built Concorde, a supersonic passenger plane (out of two ever built) that halved transatlantic flight-times, a proposition that'll still sell if you were to poll potential passengers today. It flew for 27 years but only 20 aircrafts were built. While there are multiple theories on its efficacy, it is known as a supreme technological feat. It is also known that it never made money. Finally after the one accident it had, and in face of mounting losses, the program was shut in 2003. This was despite Government subsidies and sponsorship, despite the muscle of AĆ©rospatiale and BAC, but importantly, despite a very strong consumer proposition – halving transatlantic time, the hype value of flying cutting-edge etc.

Or was it? Was it really a strong value proposition? I'm not an expert there, I've not seen the value-prop, but I assume that while it was undeniably good for the customers to half their flying time, maybe it wasn't important enough to pay the ticket price premium. Why I say this because had it not been the case, I assume other supersonic passenger jets would have been built.

What is known is that costs spiraled to 6 times the initial estimate. For perspective it was $ 23mn. Note, in 1977 dollars. Post retirement, Branson offered to buy British Airways’ Concorde planes, first offering their nominal original price of £1 each, then increasing the offer to £1 million each. Note, this is in 2003 pounds.

Also quoted is the fact that the big reason behind Concorde's grounding, apart from the cited reasons of the 4590 crash, fuel cost etc, was that it was more profitable to carry passengers at subsonic speeds.

The existence of technology, and a thumbs-up from potential customers sometimes blinds us into confusing these things as a 'buy-in'. Today, a faster website, faster delivery, better packing, better consumer service will all be things that a customer wants. Without a sensitivity curve along all the value-prop axes, however, these are all directional and that's all. What we should be researching is how many customers will pay what it takes to get these desirables on the table. What we should also do is check if there's a margin buffer between original price and a post-spiral price for long development projects.

I'm never against cool technologies. I love them. I'm genuinely sad to see Pandora, Wikipedia and WorldSpace bleed. Maybe not wiki - they made a choice not to make ad-money, but WorldSpace was in it to make money. Customers loved it. Just not enough customers maybe, not enough love perhaps, not enough love to pay. This is an important litmus for those of us in the In Tech industries especially, it is common to see over-spec-ed products. It's an engineer's / designer's self-actualization, but let’s remember all that is useless if there aren't enough people who pay for those specs.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ratul, suggest that you read a seminal work/book= "Why Most things Fail." , by Paul Ormerod. Also recommend another revealing book [ again by an Economist] = " ADAPT, why success always starts with failure." by Tim Harford


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