Case Study: Segway’s fall from grace

As I explore the series of failed innovations, I cannot exclude one of the more famous example in recent history:  Segway.

The Segway two-wheeled individual transportation vehicle was designed by Dean Kamen. Loved by the media and the business world as the new ideal in urban transportation, with its unique functionality and design.  The level of press and TV introduction was astonishing. Desires were too high. The Segway was portrayed as the eventual fate of transport. Yet, the Segway never upset transportation the way individuals had foreseen.  What happened?

No reasonable target market

Who was the target market? Who truly required this? It was an intriguing device, but there is not actual reason for anyone to purchase it.  It didn’t solve a problem that people had.  Segway was billed as something that will change the way transportation as people knew it.  Except, people had no desire to change their way of transport.  By and large, people were satisfied with their existing solution, may it be bike or foot.  Segway didn’t offer them anything significant enough to warrant the investment into buying a Segway.

External regulation

The Segway fell afoul of regulation in numerous nations where it was banned from walkways and streets on the grounds that it didn’t fit any current classifications.  Segway didn’t anticipate this issue, which contributed to its failure.  When you’re innovating, it’s important to understand the boundaries in which your innovation needs to live.


The final problem was that ultimately the expectations were too high. The Segway was portrayed as the eventual fate of transport, and it didn’t fulfill that brand promise. As an advancement it was said to be on a standard with the PC or the web. However, it didn’t revolutionize the world like the PC or the web.  PR and media interests that typically contribute to a successful product launch in this case killed it.  The buildup was too much, and the product couldn’t live up to the hype.  The hype was driven in part by the product’s mystery before launch.  Nobody actually comprehended what it was, and everyone imagined something different.  It got people talking and excited.  But when the product launched, it didn’t live up the people’s imagination.

Ultimately, Segway was an innovation that focused on innovation.  It didn’t start with understanding the consumer and making sure that there is product-market fit.


For more failed innovations, check out the below:

Case Study:  Why Google Glass Failed?

Case Study: A look back at the New Coke


Photo credit: Raymond Barlow

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