We attended Polaroid Day at MIT Museum this weekend and were reminded of the genius of Edwin Land, co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation. “Like visiting a shrine” is how Apple co-founder Steve Jobs described meeting Land. Polaroid’s Board did a great disservice to Land and his company.
Polaroid’s original instant camera – 1947’s Polaroid Land Camera, Model 95 – is the most beautiful of all Polaroid models with its art deco design aesthetic (picture below). Walking through the exhibit it was impossible to not be impressed by the design, craftsmanship and engineering of each camera. Polaroid’s technical people were obsessed with shrinking the camera’s form factor and packaging each iteration in an attractive shell. Scores of Polaroid mechanical engineers, chemical engineers and designers clearly assumed that consumers would always want to shoot instant photos on film. Polaroid was famously late to the digital photo game.
Timing Is Everything
Land’s obsession with instant video receives little airtime in Polaroid’s history. “Polavision”, Polaroid’s instant video platform began development in the 1950’s and was released to the public in 1978. Polavision was a closed system that leveraged Polaroid proprietary hardware and video technology. In addition to being a closed system, Polavision was a bit clunky to operate and did not record audio – only video. Polavision failed to gain traction with the public. Rather than iterate as Land wanted to, Polaroid’s Board voted to discontinue the product line in 1979, ultimately pushing Land out of power. Who knows what Polavision may have become, but for Land to have recognized the potential power of instant video in the 1950’s it is a shame Polaroid’s Board did not give him the benefit of the doubt. Considering the wild success of Instagram and TikTok, Edwin Land was decades ahead of his time.
Corporate Board Composition
We plan to publish a list of Technology companies (early 2020), where we believe Boards are properly constructed. This will stand in contrast to “accepted best practices”. Unlike academics and various shareholder services vendors, we prefer a healthy mix of insiders and outsiders on corporate Boards. We view insiders as assets, not liabilities. Further, we prefer operators to professional Board members. Within the fluid world of Technology, we value the opinions of Product executives and Engineers/Designers over finance types and marketers.