As every product manager knows, nailing the product launch window matters a lot. In fact it often spells the difference between success and failure.
Ship too early, before you’ve fixed killer bugs or implemented the use cases required by your MVP value proposition, and your product won’t get enough market traction to generate positive cash flow or word-of-mouth referrals by enthusiasts.
Ship too late, and you’ll find it difficult to take share from the entrenched category leaders.
If you really blow your “window of opportunity,” it can be fatal to your brand — and maybe your company.
Although I have no insider knowledge, I fear this is the situation that Jawbone is now facing.
Can Jawbone Survive the Missed Release Date?
Jawbone announced a new wristband fitness tracker in November 2014, promising that the UP3 would be their most advanced device, as well as the smallest and lightest tracker in its class. They priced it at $179.99, definitely at the pricier end of the category. They justified the high price tag based on UP3’s functionality, its advanced bio-feedback sensors, design quality, etc.
Now that Apple has promised to ship the Apple Watch on April 24, Jawbone has missed its critical window of opportunity. This is huge.
The UP3 has still not shipped, the company cannot provide any specific ship dates, and consumer frustration is mounting. From the long discussion forum at their Facebook page, it appears consumers are now canceling their pre-orders and asking for their money back.
Had Jawbone been able to ship the UP3 in November, they would have had a 6-month buffer before the long-awaited Apple Watch arrived in retail stores. If the UP3 worked as promised, Jawbone might have been able to defend their premium pricing strategy, at least for a while.
Priced at $180, the UP3 will cost more than half as much as Apple’s entry-level Sport Watch while offering far fewer capabilities.
The UP3 is certainly smaller and sleeker than the Apple Watch, and may offer better heart monitoring capabilities, but will those distinctions matter enough — to enough customers?
Given the device’s late-to-market challenge, Jawbone may need to reduce the price substantially, in order to build a critical mass of brand loyalists whose enthusiasm will keep the lights on.
Questions Raised about Jawbone’s Finances
The Internet is full of rumors about Jawbone’s troubled state. Even worse, business and tech journalists are reporting financial indicators that may suggest Jawbone is in a “precarious” state if not rescued soon. Rumors include:
- Disputes over payments owed to its contract manufacturer, Flextronics
- Manufacturing yield quality and scaling issues
- A possible strategic investment from Google
- Bail-out funding by BlackRock
Who knows whether Jawbone’s inability to ship the UP3 on time is due to lack of cash, hardware or software quality defects, a lingering dispute with the manufacturer, or what. Whatever the underlying root cause, this execution failure raises serious questions, and may end up putting the company on life support…
Late to the Party?
The big question is, if and when it eventually ships, can the UP3 attract enough fitness enthusiasts who are dissatisfied with competitive offerings? Does the UP3 offer enough value to be worn with, or instead of, an Apple Watch?
This is a tricky question for Jawbone, as they are clearly trying to appeal to the cohort of design-savvy, quality conscious consumers who are also attracted to the Apple brand.
This must be a painful moment for Jawbone investors. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.