In 1998, Pets.com was created to do something super ordinary by today’s standards—sell pet food, accessories, and toys online, and ship them to customers.
It lost money for 9 straight months until it shut down.
Shipping was expensive, especially for heavy items like pet food and cat litter. Most people weren’t mentally prepared to do their shopping online yet. There was no way to stay in the green when customers could head to the local pet store on autopilot and get the same thing more cheaply.
I was thinking about the idea of adjacent possibilities from Steven Johnson, and it occurred to me—
It's just as applicable to innovation adoption as it is to innovation.
Take some goal, like getting people to buy dog food online, and divide it into all the little pieces that each need to individually work out for the whole thing to come together. This would include both technology pieces, like building a commerce website, and people pieces, like convincing Spot’s owner to shop with you.
Every piece needs to be (a) already across the finish line, or (b) close enough to the finish line that you are pretty sure you can shove it over yourself.
In 2000, roughly half of America had internet access and probably much more so in urban areas, so “internet access” would be an example of something already over the finish line for our aspiring online pet store. “Willingness to shop online” was not across the finish line, and in fact, distance to the finish line wasn’t something they thought to investigate. Oops.
The more pieces you have to shove over the line, the harder it gets.
That’s why we extol the benefits of platforms like GPS and Amazon, which take some of the hardest pieces to the finish line so seller AoOnZan doesn’t have to.
What makes it challenging is the racetrack is constantly shifting.