A little history. Hasselblad was acquired by Vorndran Mannheims Capital (VMC) then called Ventizz, and quickly pivoted into a nascent luxury brand with the delivery of some embarassing Sony rebrands, the Lunar and Stellar cameras. These were Sony cameras with wooden grips glued on and the price moved up to the stratosphere. After the laughter on the internet died down a bit, VMC dropped in a new CEO, and is now pitching H as a re-pivot back to its roots. That's silly on the face of it, pivoting back is an admission of defeat and an indicator that VMC ought to dump the investment. But there's more.
Let us examine the career of the current CEO of Hasselblad, Perry Oosting:
- CEO Hasselblad for the last 2 years.
- CEO of Vertu (marketer and manufacturer of super-luxury cell phones) for 4 years prior.
- 24 years of Managing Director jobs at, at least, Bulgari, Prada, and Gucci. These are three separate concerns, he's moved around a bit.
VMC is a private equity firm that targets hyper-technical companies, basically the opposite of luxury brands, with potential for high growth. Hasselblad, while technical, is not technical in the sense VMC specializes in, at all. Still, VMC is looking for high-growth and is clearly committed to Hasselblad as a luxury brand. There's something odd going on there, but who knows what? Perhaps one of the partners at VMC just loves Hasselblad.
If you take the Hasselblad pitch at face value, it makes exactly no sense: Blah blah blah passion for the highest quality for the hardest working professionals, etc and so on. If true, what on earth is Mr. Oosting doing at the helm? Also, where is that high-growth market? Last I heard the professional photography market was going nowhere but down. It's probably flatter than the sky-is-falling crowd thinks, but no thinking human thinks it's going to experience explosive growth, or substantial growth at all, any time soon.
If I have the timeline correct, the story we are expected to believe is this:
VMC and H, observing that the luxury play at H was not working out so great, decided the company should pivot back to its roots and deliver pure photography at the highest qualities. To drive this charge into the high-growth market of professional photography, they hired a guy with 28 years of experience at Bulgari, Prada, and Gucci, and some company that glued diamonds on to phones, and no experience whatsoever in the camera business.
Go ahead, pull the other one, it's got bells on!
Try this story instead. VMC and H, observing the luxury play was not going so great, and knowing that there is no high growth to be had in high end cameras, decided to hire someone with a deep understanding of the luxury market, to show them how to do it right. Mr. Oosting took stock and told them that the first thing the needed to do was to fix their reputation, which was in pretty bad shape.
Hasselblad under Oosting has doubled-down on the Hasselblad heritage, delivering a fully up to date Medium Format camera, and doing quite a credible full court press getting the word out. It won't sell many units, but they don't care. It's a halo product, intended not to generate revenue but credibility and reputation. It may or may not make a profit, but that's not its purpose.
So what's the luxury product? I'm not feeling the H6D as a luxury product, really. It has some of the earmarks and is definitely intended for an exclusive market of the well-heeled. But there's no high-growth here, there's no cracking the wealthy Asian markets with this thing. Mr. Oosting wants to sell a billion dollars worth of stuff, not a few million.
Let's look at Hasselblad's job openings. These can be very informative.
They're looking for embedded development engineers, to work on a complete system (VHDL through QML, i.e. chip design through UI design). The specs are consistent with a new imaging system with a modern UI (that is, not piles of menus). They're also looking for a test engineering lead. They've got something they need to build. The job descriptions say "camera" and since there's no call for special skills (animation, rocketry, whatever) I take that at face value. It also makes sense.
Oosting knows about Leica, and no doubt does not want to be a second-rate Leica but probably likes the idea that a certain class of wealth likes to just carry one around. He wants something sleek, beautiful, distinctive. He wants it to scream Hasselblad, he wants it to be a portable status symbol for the elite, and he doesn't want to just copy Leica.
Let's think about what has to be in the design brief for whatever it is H has in the works:
Must fully embody Hasselblad's brand and look the part. Strong branding, which implies 1) strong design notes from Hasselblad's history, 2) an imaging system with perceived very high quality.
Object of desire/Status symbol. Therefore portable, sleek, beautiful. Broadly desired. Not a camera for camera nerds, but a mass-appealing (but not mass-available!) imaging system. Purse-sized, one hand-sized. Slick user experience, social media, cloud connected. Phone-like ease of use. Friction-less photo/video sharing.
Allow me a flyer here. A small camera, with excellent but not earth shattering technical specs. Definitely does video.
Design notes: leatherette+chrome/cube/space for a clearly visible logo/slanted-rear screen, non-removable lens that is nonetheless obvious, prominent.
Size: easily held by one hand, about 300 grams.
System: Touchscreen, syncs with app on your phone (NFC/bluetooth?) for seamless "one-touch" (or nearly) connectivity.
Price: $5000 US.
This will be the Lunar/Stellar reborn as a real boy, it'll be the real article, an actually good camera in a beautiful package that screams Hasselblad. By being ultra-modern (touchscreen, connectivity) it will be both broadly desirable beyond camera-geek forums, and definitely not Leica. It will be blinged out, but subtly. Silver and exotic leathers, not crystals. It will, ideally, be lauded by the camera-geek forums, though, as that's the first step.
The sophisticated elite client needs to believe that their desired object is the real thing, that it is essentially the same as the one used by jet pilots and professional photographers, and they will check the web before they buy.
If Oosting has any sense, he's talking to his old bosses, looking for a Prada or Bulgari co-brand. If he can get Miuccia to carry one, he's won.