13 times bosses mocked new technology and got it wrong

Blockbuster was a hit in the '90s.

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Blockbuster was a hit in the ’90s.
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North Pole Blockbuster

Sometimes the next big thing isn’t easy to spot. This is especially true when you have a massive legacy enterprise to protect.

Research firm CB Insights compiled some of the most outrageous times bosses laughed in the face of disruption. We’re publishing them here with permission.

Some of the predictions are old enough that they’re obviously wrong – people dismissed personal computers and streaming video. And some of those making the predictions ran companies that are now defunct because they missed the boat. With others, the jury is still out as to how off base the dismissal was.

Here are a few of our favorites. You can see the full list of 33 quotes on CB Insights blog:


Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes on streaming video

“Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,” Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes told the Motley Fool in 2008. “It’s more Wal-Mart and Apple.”

His video-rental chain filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Today Netflix is worth $61.93 billion.


Steve Ballmer on the first iPhone

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Stephen Brashear / Getty Images

“Five hundred dollars? Fully subsidized? With a plan? I said that is the most expensive phone in the world,” the former Microsoft CEO reportedly said of the first iPhone.

“And it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Which makes it not a very good email machine.”


Nintendo’s North American president on mobile games

These mobile games are “candidly disposable from a consumer standpoint,” said Nintendo North America president Reggie Fils-Aime in 2011.

Maybe 65 million monthly active Pokemon Go players changed his mind.


IBM’s president on computers

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Wikimedia Commons

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,” said Thomas Watson, president of IBM, in 1943.

Needless to say, a few more than that have been sold since then.


Motorola CEO on the iPod

“Screw the Nano. What the hell does the Nano do? Who listens to 1,000 songs?” said Motorola CEO Ed Zander at a conference in 2006 in response to a question about Apple’s iPod Nano.

Motorola’s competing ROKR held 100 songs at the time. The company later said Zander was joking.


Jaguar’s research head on self-driving cars

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Thomson Reuters

“We don’t consider customers cargo,” said Jaguar’s head of R&D, Wolfgang Epple, in 2015. “We don’t want to build a robot that delivers the cargo from A to B.”

Jaguar Land Rover has since invested $25 million in Lyft to cash in on the autonomous trend.


Ken Olsen on personal computers

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” said Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

His comment came the year after Apple introduced the personal computer.


Steve Ballmer on Google

“Google’s not a real company. It’s a house of cards,” said former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Today, Google parent Alphabet’s market cap is $100 billion more than Microsoft’s.


Cofounder of 20th Century Fox on television

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Gustavo Devito/Flickr

“Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night,” said Daryl Zanuck, cofounder of 20th Century Fox.

He was right, kind of. Now we just stare at tiny phone screens all the time.


Thomas Siebel on CRM’s

“Microsoft will roll [Salesforce] over,” Thomas Siebel of Siebel Systems flatly told Bloomberg in 2003. “They get Zambonied.”

Oracle acquired his Siebel Systems for $5.85 billion in 2005. Salesforce’s market cap is now $60 billion.


Western Union president on the telephone

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Britannica

“What use could this company make ofan electrical toy?” scoffed William Orton, president of Western Union, when his company had the opportunity to buy Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary invention in 1876.


NBCU president on streaming video

“The notion that [companies like Netflix] are replacing broadcast TV may not be quite accurate,” said Alan Wurtzel, NBCU president of research and media development. “I think we need a little bit of perspective when we talk about the impact of Netflix and outlets.”

Now, legacy broadcasters like NBC are scrambling to keep up with the likes of Netflix, Hulu and others.


Tim Maurer on robo-advisors

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Wealthfront

Wealth-management services require “educated, credentialed, experienced advisors acting as fiduciaries on behalf of clients and actively engaged in a relationship with them,” said Tim Maurer, director of personal finance at Buckingham and The BAM Alliance, in an op-ed on CNBC.

“I don’t see their services as competing with comprehensive wealth management,” he said.

Automated-investing firms, like Betterment and Wealthfront, are hoping to provide the same services, with a much skinnier staff thanks to algorithms and automation.