3 Mistakes That Turned Segway From Selling 140,000-units to Dud

Did you know that ironically the CEO of Segway Inc. died by riding a Segway scooter off a cliff, into a river?

Kamen introduced the first model to President Bill Clinton in the white house

Inventor Dean Kamen introduced the Segway as a “self-balancing human transporter,” with internal gyroscopes that “sensed” the direction that you wanted to go. The battery-powered device was initially launched as a self-balancing wheelchair. The device is balanced on two parallel wheels and is controlled by moving body weight. The machine's development was the object of much speculation and hype. The first patent was filed together by the University of Plymouth, BAE Systems and Sumitomo Precision Products in 1994 and granted in 1997, followed by others till 1999 and 2001.

Kamen promised his product would finally offer a solution to public transportation’s notorious “last mile” problem, connecting people from train stations and bus stops to their homes or offices.

Kamen with Jeff Bezos using the Segway, he asserted that Segway will be as revolutionary as Internet

Segway enjoyed instant success with institutional users, working closely with organizations like the US Postal Service, Amazon, Local Police Departments and More.

Security guards and parking enforcement officers adopted thousands of Segways, and fleets of Segway-mounted travelers rolled around tourist destinations.

Expectations were really high, Kamen asserted that “Segway will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy”.

The Segway PT (personal transporter) landed went on sale in 2002. Early units were priced at $5,000 and the machine debuted on Amazon.com on November 18, 2002. The Segway electric scooter’s key attributes were that it self-balanced on two wheels and had a battery that made it capable of scootering all day without the need to recharge. Venture capitalist and primary investor in the company, John Doerre predicted that Segway Inc. would be the fastest company in history to make $1 billion in sales.

Steve Jobs arguably asked the first valid question: "You're sure your market is upscale consumers for transportation?

Only 140,000 units were sold during the lifetime of the product. The Segway gained some national attention when then-US President George W. Bush took one of the vehicles for a spin and fell at his family property in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Kevin James (as Paul Blart) riding the Segway in the movie Mall Cop
Segway with its Chinese Copycat - Ninebot

A series of such high-profile accidents started what could be called as the cascade of an imminent fall. Instead of becoming a mass-market last-mile mover, the Segway became a slapstick prop in movie hits like Mall Cop and Arrested Development. The hefty price tag didn't make things any easier, it was retailing at as high as $10,000 at one point, beating price tags of some of the used car market prices at that time. Estimated revenues were not publicly disclosed, but the company struggled to become profitable. The entry of copycat companies worsened the situation for Segway even further. The company began pivoting towards niche markets like tourism and law enforcement and found its new owner in British entrepreneur Jimi Heselden.

In a cruel turn of fate, after years of copying Segway's design and hurting them by copying every design, the Chinese company: Ninebot became big enough to buy Segway in 2010.

3 Mistakes That Killed Segway

  1. It was not the right market fit: Segway's self-balancing was seen as gimmicky and was often seen as a danger for people who could not balance it at all.
  2. It was not positioned well: Segway was competing with EV scooters and such mobility solutions, with much better safety and comfortable positions, putting it at an obvious disadvantage.
  3. The brand never evolved: Segway underwent multiple design and utility changes over time but it was either too early or just too late, EV bike companies already rode in the market with much more advanced features and cheaper price tags.

Segway’s journey reflects the difficulties pioneering technologies face in finding a broad market In its current form, it has only become the "dorky version of what it could be" and only plays a complementary role in last-mile mobility solutions, much farther from its original plans.

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