My first startup was Semacode, the world’s first downloadable QR Code scanner. When I tell people my entrepreneurship story, I tell them that my first company was a technological and press success, but a business failure. We were covered in Wired and the Economist, and we did make some money, but not that much. Ultimately, we never figured out how to make a business out of it. That was a big mistake. I thought I had a product, but actually what I had was a technology.

Crossing the Chasm (3rd Edition) by Geoffrey A. Moore has turned this into a textbook example:

Bodies in the Chasm

What happens in this catch-22 situation? First, because the product has caught on with the early adopters, it has garnered a lot of publicity: Holograms, pen-based tablets, fuel cells, QR Codes, Massive Open Online Courses—we have all read a lot about these types of offerings, yet not one has achieved to date mainstream market status, despite the fact that the current offers actually do work reasonably well.

It’s nice to know that Moore thinks that the failure of Semacode (and competitors) is a textbook example of failing to cross the chasm.

Moore says that this is a failure of marketing, but I’m not sure I agree with that. I don’t think that there’s a way to market QR Codes that will make them a successful business. They can only succeed if there is a fundamentally different business ecosystem for them, as there is in Japan. There, QR codes succeeded because all of the carriers and phone makers collectively adopted it at the same time, and they didn’t care if they didn’t capture financial value from the use of QR codes. That won’t work outside of Japan.