How Not to Launch Your Product

I recently (well, not recently, more like 294 days ago) purchased a Karma Go wireless hot spot device for use when I travel.  My in-laws didn’t have wireless connectivity in their home (they used dial-up until when they switched to broadband last year, and finally installed a wireless router a couple months ago) and on more than one occasion I’ve had to drive around looking for a location with wireless because I had an emergency at work and needed internet access.

While I could get a wireless hot spot from work, I like the idea of having my own wireless connection and at $99, the device is tiny and fits in my briefcase or backpack.  More importantly, the data never expires and there is no monthly contract, so the fact that I would only use it as a last resort/contingency, makes the whole concept very affordable.

Getting the device was an adventure in and of itself.

Here are the communications from Karma Go, along with excerpts from the blog posts and my commentary in italics.

September 23, 2014: “It’s ready.  Meet Karma Go.” [link]

Well, except that it wasn’t ready.  Nor would it be ready for close to another year.

Over the past two months we’ve been walking around with prototypes that are connected to LTE. They work flawlessly.

Then it kind of makes you wonder how it took another 12 months to get working ones out to consumers who had already paid you then.

Karma Go ships in December.

Or August of the following year.  Same thing really.  Kind of.

November 25, 2015: “Soon, but not as soon as we’d hoped.” [link]

[W]e’ve decided to start shipping in early 2015, instead of December like we originally planned. We’ll update you with a specific ship date within the next 2-3 weeks.

In all fairness, this is what good communication looks like, but only when it’s accurate and honest.  It would be very difficult to convince me that a company who has rolled out previous telecommunications devices wouldn’t have a better idea of what the actual delay would be.

January 9, 2015: “Karma Go’s New Ship Date” [link]

Good news! Karma Go is inches away from entering the certification labs, which means we have a projected ship date we can share: April 10th. We apologize it took this long to update you; we want to be sure we share a timeline that is accurate.

Two important things stand out in this messaging.  First, the ship date isn’t too far off, and even though we’ve been waiting for three and a half months now — and our credit cards have already been charged — there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Karma is apologetic that they’ve taken so long but point out that it’s to be sure they give a timeline that is accurate.  Excellent step to ensure trust in the company that already has our money and hasn’t delivered us a product yet as promised.

Except… for the fact it turns out that to not be that accurate at all.

March 25, 2015: “Karma Go Shipment Update” [link]

Telling you about a launch delay is the last thing we want to be doing right now. We’ve been waiting to ship out Go to you for months. It’s beyond frustrating to say the least, and we know you can relate. A minor delay during these last few tests was always possible, but we stayed confident. Sometimes though, it’s not within our control.

This is only a last, small hurdle. We have the final version of Karma Go right here, in our hands and ready to ship. That is how close we are to being done. As we mentioned, we’re still in the middle of tests that the network requires us to pass. One of those is field testing (a part of LTE testing), where technicians take Karma Go to various cities and see if it works like it should. Due to a scheduling issue, field testing started later than we wanted. That moved our whole timeline out a few weeks, which means we’ll most likely be shipping in May, instead of the April date we so strongly pushed for. It’s an obvious letdown, but nothing we can’t overcome.

Here we go again…

By this point, folks on Facebook are just peppering Karma Go’s company page with furious comments.  There’s really nothing they can do except apologize and offer refunds.  A large number of the comments are pointing out (not entirely wrongly) that this is starting to look like a shady attempt to raise capital by selling a product you know you don’t yet have ready for production.  Keep in mind they said four months ago that the devices were ready and already in use working flawlessly. 

All signs currently show a May ship date. We can be more exact after a couple of weeks of the LTE tests, so look out for that around the second week of April.

Oh good, at least we’ll know something by the second week of April.  I fully trust this promise.

April 21: “Quick update on Karma Go” [link]

Yes, we’re still on track to start delivering Go in May.  We’re waiting for a few more sign-offs on testing first, and then we can provide you with a firm ship date, near the end of this month.

Ok, so in the third week of April, you tell your customers you aren’t giving them the date you promised to give them by the second week of April.  At least, according to your email, they can expect one within the next nine days. 

May 28: “We’ve been heads down and we fixed it” [link]

First off, I want to apologize for not communicating to you sooner. We wanted to give you something concrete, and now we have something concrete to share. And to everyone who has pre-ordered a Karma Go: Thank you for sticking with us this long.

Uh-oh…

We planned to ship Karma Go this month, but we can’t ship Karma Go until it’s perfect. We hit a snag about a month ago that threw our timeline up in the air, and now that snag is finally resolved.

We don’t have a solid date to share with you today. It’s not that we’re not close to shipping, we’re really close. In fact, we’ve already produced 7,500 Karma Go units, and are making more at the rate of 1,500 a day. But we’ve given you wrong dates in the past, which sucks, and we want to learn from our mistakes.

So now you’ve had our money for seven months and you’re just going to tell us the date we’re getting our merchandise is “TBD”.. are you kidding me?

Candidate 2 testing is scheduled to start Monday, June 1st, and a couple weeks after that starts we hope to be shipping final Karma Go units to our distribution center. And then we ship to you!

If for some reason Candidate 2 testing is delayed, or uncovers new issues, that will push back the ship date, which is why we aren’t making any promises right now.

Well, that’s smart.  Since you won’t tell us a date, we won’t know when you change it again.  Interesting customer service model.

After we’re done with Candidate testing, you will get an email from us to confirm your mailing address. Some of you have been waiting for more than 180 days for Karma Go, and you might’ve moved — I’ve moved twice!

Maybe you should have been working on our orders instead of moving multiple times, and I don’t know where you get 180 days.. it’s been 217 days since I ordered mine, and I was hardly the first person to do so.

We’re also going to start a weekly series about how Karma Go works, detailing all the ways you can use it. This is to explain the reasoning behind Karma Go’s unique features, and why we think you’ll love it.

You know what else might make us love it..?  If we could use it.

June 4, June 11, June 18, June 25: No news about shipment dates

July 2: “All tests passed, Karma Go is a go” [link]

We’re moving fast to get Karma Go shipped to you as soon as possible. The first step is flashing the final approved firmware onto every device. That will take about a week. Then we’re going to ship the devices by air freight to our distribution center in California. It can take a few days to get through customs, so that’s about another week total.

Then we start shipping Karma Go to you. We’ll have all the details about the rollout in your inbox next week. This is happening, people!

Ok, so the average person would probably deduct from this a week to flash firmware, another week to ship to California and clear customs, for a total of two weeks.  Should have our devices in no more than three weeks!

July 21: We start shipping tomorrow” [link]

Everyone who ordered Karma Go before today will have their device within 45 days from now. We’ll send you a FedEx tracking number the moment your device leaves our warehouse.

Awesome, wait, what?  So it could be as late as early September now?

August 6: Track your Karma Go: Your WiFi has left the building

August 13: Karma Go Delivered

Forbes wrote an article about this debacle in July 23.  I linked to the blog entries I quote above not only for context, but because the comments by customers give an interesting picture of how angry Karma Go made its customers.  There’s no doubt this could have been handled much better than it was.  The pre-orders were offered under misleading circumstances, and the communication just got sketchier from there.  Given the amount of the investment, I ruled out a refund several times along the way as it seemed more interesting to watch the whole thing run its course.

Overall, I like the Karma Go.  I’ve used it a few times at work to sync my iPad and the connection seems fine.  I have tethering on my phone, so I’d likely only use it when I travel, or if I know I need to do quite a bit of work from my personal MacBook Pro while in the office on a certain day.

Would I order another one?  Yes, definitely.  Do I trust the company now?  As a product manager, I feel bad for them, and I truly think they got in over their heads.  In the end, I think this was a learning experience for their team and the delays were probably horribly frustrating for them too.  Beside, I’m committed with their product now.

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