The Failure of a Great Invention Idea

The Rite Press story is a cautionary tale for inventors.

For serious coffee drinkers the french press is recognized as one of the best ways to make coffee. But it has drawbacks: cleaning is unpleasant and coffee grows cold too quickly. Inventor-entrepreneur Sagram Patel solved those drawbacks and launched an improved french press called the Rite Press on Kickstarter in 2018. The project raised over $1 million and became Kickstarter's most successful coffee project of all time. From that pinnacle of success the product fell into ever deeper trenches of failure. There were failures to deliver the product, failures to make a product with acceptable quality and most finally, utter market failure.

The story of how Rite Press failed its Kickstarter (and Indiegogo) backers has been told. It's a messy combination of incompetence, bad luck and bad faith. You can read the details here:

Rite Press and a classic french press
The Rite Press offered on Kickstarter and a Bodum french press.

I was an early backer of the Rite Press Kickstarter and actually did receive a first edition stainless steel Rite Press. I'm also a big fan of making coffee with a french press. At this moment I'm sitting with my Rite Press and a classic Bodum french press in front of me. My Rite Press works fine. It is, in fact, easier to clean and does, in fact, keep coffee hotter longer. The Rite Press also has a timer for brewing time and a thermometer to indicate the temperature. I used it twice after I first received it and have never used it since. Meanwhile, I use the old school Bodum french press every day. As a product developer this is a conundrum.

Why do I prefer the old school product that performs worse and has fewer features?

The answer is simple. The performance benefits come at a cost in aesthetics. The Bodum french press is much prettier and feels better in my hands; it's elegant in its simplicity. Cleaning the Rite Press is easier, but not that much easier. The coffee does stay hotter, but I drink all of the coffee pretty quickly and I kind of like the experience of drinking coffee as it cools. For me, the superior look and feel of the classic french press outweigh the benefits of the new and improved one.

However, it's easy to imagine the Rite Press beating the classic french press in a survey. So, my takeaway is to be careful about using any one tool for forecasting. Data is great, but personal feelings and observations are important too.

At this moment my Bodum 34 ounce french press is selling on Amazon for $35 with 13,556 reviews and 4.5 stars. An all plastic version of the Rite Press is selling for $8 with 90 reviews and 3.5 stars. That's what failure looks like. A product that had 21,000 backers on Kickstarter now has just 90 reviews on Amazon. After factoring in Amazon charges, shipping and other business costs, it's clear that Rite Press is selling for a loss.

- Mike Marks

share this article: facebook