I watched a really amazing documentary the other day called General Magic. If you aren’t familiar, General Magic has been called “the most important company to come out of Silicon Valley that nobody’s ever heard of,” and early employees included future White House chief technology officer Megan Smith, future Android co-creator Andy Rubin, future eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and future iPod and iPhone co-designer Tony Fadell, among others.

In 1990, General Magic set out to make a pocket-sized computer. The company was set to be huge — but instead became one of Silicon Valley’s biggest failures. There were a lot of things that went wrong — but here were a key takeaways I had: 

  • The importance of following external trends. The team at General Magic completely ignored the internet mega trend and tried to create absolutely everything from scratch. They tried to create their own momentum and ignored that the world was not ready. 
  • Customer-centricity. They had no customer focus and no idea who the customer even was. 
  • Market feedback. The company waited until the last minute to have a big reveal — which meant they had no market feedback. This is why shipping daily is so important. 

The company had the best team. The best vision. The best brand. The best partners (Sony, AT&T, Apple). The best funding (they opened on the stock market before even showing a finished product). The best of everything — but that still couldn’t save them. 

They invented the smartphone in 1994. It wasn’t until 2007 before Steve Jobs brought the iPhone to market and made the smartphone something we all know and use.

It just goes to show that ideas are powerful — but you can’t just create a business on a good idea. It requires that perfect combination of an idea, customer-centricity, a killer team, market fit & timing, testing, and learning. 

I believe that thanks to everyone at Drift, we have that combination. Happy New Year, I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings. 


P.S. Two General Magic alumni went to create the iPhone (Tony Fadell) and Android (Andy Rubin) 17 years later. That’s 98% of the world’s smartphones

P.P.S. If you’re interested, this article has a great summary of what happened with General Magic

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