Reading many of the recent conversations here has led me to reflect on what it means to succeed out of proportion to the expectations. Glowforge placed a funding goal of $100,000 on their pre-order campaign, which would have been met with 50 Basic machines. Instead, they reached over $27.9M with orders for several thousand machines. The pre-orders have grown to about 10,000 total since then. That’s on the order of 200 times the funding goal.
Tesla unveiled a prototype for the Model X in 2012, four months before starting deliveries of the the Model S. They expected to start deliveries of the X in 2013 and thought the X would be mostly a different body on top of a dual-motor Model S platform using perhaps 90% of the same parts.
Then the Model S started selling much faster than they expected. They had barely the battery supply and the factory production capacity to meet the Model S demand (with significant order-to-delivery delays), much less add a completely new model to the mix. Between Model S selling so well and the significant feature creep on the Model X, the X would not start production until September 2015. That required building a new factory line and committing to long-term large battery supply contracts.
In 2014, Tesla announced their plan to build a battery Gigafactory that, by 2020, would produce annually as many Lithium Ion batteries as the entire world produced in 2013. They also announced that they expected to be making 500,000 cars per year by 2020.
On March 31, 2016 Tesla started taking $1000 order reservations for the Tesla Model 3, which they would unveil that night. There were lines of people, many were several hundred long, at Tesla showrooms worldwide that morning. By the time the prototype cars were shown, there were over 115,000 reservations placed worldwide for this car which would start deliveries in “late 2017”. By the end of the week, Tesla announce over 373,000 reservations had been made.
This was significantly more interest than Tesla had anticipated. It led Elon Musk to famously tweet, “Definitely going to need to rethink production planning…” on April 1. A few weeks later, Tesla announced they would meet their 2020 production goals in 2018 instead. Most in the auto industry thought they were crazy.
Tesla has started production of the Model 3 ahead of schedule (something new for them), and expects to be making 5000 per week by the end of this year, and 10000 per week sometime in 2018.
Bringing this back to Glowforge…
If Glowforge had only succeeded in meeting their goal, they could probably have delivered 50 Basic units by December. They could have 3D printed the cases rather than tooling up for injection molding. They may not have encountered many of the problems that occur in only 1% of units. They would not have needed to be sure their online services could scale to the needs of 10,000 users.
The moment they blew by their pre-order goal on the first day, they knew they would need to “rethink production planning.” By the end of the campaign they were likely trying to plan out how to deliver thousands of machines rather than tens or hundreds.
Over the two years since the pre-order campaign, they have uncovered many of the one-in-a-hundred or one-in-a-thousand problems. They have discovered many things they didn’t know that they didn’t know at the outset.
In short, they’ve met the Curse of Success. Things that you can work around when hand-building small numbers of devices become major problems when trying to make thousands of those products.
But now they are shipping. There are likely hundreds of Glowforges in peoples’ homes and businesses. These machines are significantly better engineered than they would have been if only 50 had pre-sold.
None of us has enjoyed the wait, especially not Glowforge, I’m sure. But it is not at all surprising that the delay happened–especially when coupled with the Curse of Success.