A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

15 June 2012

The ARCTIC Summer

Back at the ranch, we got down to the work of turning "56K technology" into a brand and a product line.  We needed to generate a bunch of "education sell" material -- visually appealing and quick-to-read handouts that would explain the new technology succinctly and simply, while emphasizing why the end user would care.

Our goal was to be ready to go on a particular launch date with an aggressive ad campaign that would appear quite literally overnight.

During this time, the stress in the office was palpable.  Most of us were there by 7:30 AM, and most of us didn't leave until 7:30 PM or later.  As the date drew nearer, this became a six day a week schedule. We all felt the pressure to get everything done, and we felt it both from our individual roles and also from those of our colleagues.  The engineers were testing, revising, fine-tuning, testing again, and scratching their heads over various bugs in the code.  We needed modems that did 56K out of the box, and we needed an upgrade path for every version of our product that our customers already owned.

The newer modems could be "flashed" over their internet connection lines.  Slightly older ones could do a chip swap.  Older than that but new enough to qualify for the upgrade would need a full product replacement.  In all three cases, we decided the price would be the same.  The logistics of figuring out which modem you had, what upgrade you needed, and how to get your upgrade fulfilled were going to be a spectacular nightmare.  But we were committed to doing it for our customers, and making it as easy as it could be.

The factory didn't require a huge amount of retooling -- after all, the form factor of the devices wasn't changing; just some key parts of the guts.  But we would need to come up with some sort of forecast to determine what to manufacture and in what amounts.  Internal, external, a different model for Mac computers vs. Intel machines.

Then there was the head-end.  We needed to be ready to upgrade the ISPs so they could start advertising that they supported the new technology.  We wanted to be able to say some ISPs were live with it as soon as possible after the announcement, so end users would have a reason to buy the things. But we couldn't tell them about it until the launch date.

In sales and marketing, we had volumes and volumes of *stuff* to produce.  Data sheets for the products. Explanations of the upgrade process.  Inserts for the product boxes that would ship from launch day forward, explaining the upgrade path.  Cards for store shelves and other in-store media.

And, oh, by the way, a brand name.  We decided it would be called "x2 Technology(TM)" A logo emerged, and a general look and feel for all the new packages and supporting media.

Generating this stuff took months of work from hundreds of people.  The amazing thing was, everybody was having a ball.

Don't get me wrong.  We were stressed and exhausted.  In turn, each of us "hit the wall." And you've never seen so much caffeine ingested by one group of people in one day (My personal best was 12 cans of Diet Coke in 10 hours).  But at the same time, we were kids on Christmas.  We had an awesome new technology that was going to change the market.  We had total clarity on what we needed to do.  We were all in it together, and we knew it.  Even when we doubted we would ever pull it off in time, somehow, we never doubted we would pull it off in time.

Next up: Hell week.

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