There was a time, back in early 2001, when the biggest story anywhere revolved around a still-under-wraps invention that promised to change the world. And when this mystery device was finally unveiled later that year, everyone was like, "It's just a scooter?" This, of course, was the Segway, and Dan Kois at Slate provides an in-depth look at the secretive creation—it was, in fact, far more than "just a scooter"—and at the reasons it flopped. As it turns out, Kois is in a unique position to write this tale because he played a role in what happened 20 years ago, back when he was a "26-year-old dumbass." In fact, he may have played a large role, large enough that for the last two decades, Kois has wondered, "Did I kill the Segway?" A single man, of course, did not kill the Segway, but Kois explains his guilt.
At the time, he was an aspiring book agent working with a reporter who had the inside scoop on inventor Dean Kamen's secret project. Kois managed to sell the book proposal for $250,000 even though neither he nor buyer Harvard Business School Press knew what the invention was. But Kois sold it well in his pitches, noting that Silicon Valley luminaries and big-name investors were convinced Kamen would be the next Henry Ford. Somebody, probably foreign rights scouts whom Kois had sent the proposal to, leaked it (Kois blames himself for naive carelessness). It got picked up in the media and hyped to the heavens as people speculated on what the invention might be. When the Segway finally came out, it felt like a bust. "It could never quite recover from that letdown," writes Kois. "And that’s why I can’t stop thinking that the Segway might still have had a chance but for the hype." (Read the full piece for much more on the invention and the era.)