A Marketing Startup Story: What was it Like to be a Passenger on the “Titanic”?

When White Star decided to change strategy from building fast ships to building large ships, it still needed to find a way to differentiate its ships. So, it decided that the Titanic would be both the largest and the “finest” ship in the world. Its innovations would rival even today’s massive cruise ships. To accomplish this goal, it had a number of engineering and design challenges to overcome – each of which created their own technical debt. And, because of its focus on luxury, the Titanic was to be the heaviest of the three boats.

To get the Titanic in the water and through her maiden voyage successfully, White Star needed to complete all the following technical tasks:

  • Scale up a relatively new technology in steel welding

  • Develop a propulsion system, including multiple inverted reciprocating steam engines, to power a low-pressure turbine that controlled the propellers

  • Design those engines to maximize power output while minimizing fuel consumption

  • Build in an internal power plant to maintain electrical power throughout the ship

  • Design a new approach to manage leaks or breaks in the hull in order to make the ship unsinkable

  • Incorporate first-class cabins that had expansive views and the best finishings

  • Craft a grand two-story staircase entryway

  • Add features never seen before in a ship – a swimming pool, Turkish baths, squash courts and a state-of-the-art gym including a rowing machine (see picture below)

  • Create three different top-of-line experiences: for first class, second class and third class

The  Titanic  gymnasium and rowing machine. (credit:  http://www.ultimatetitanic.com/interior-fittings/ )

The Titanic gymnasium and rowing machine. (credit: http://www.ultimatetitanic.com/interior-fittings/)

First-class passengers not only had multi-room suites, but they also had a 550-foot boat deck for taking in the sea air. For socializing and relaxing, they had the gymnasium, a squash court, a pool, baths, and several public spaces: dining saloon, reception room, restaurant, lounge, reading and writing room, smoking room (men only), veranda café and palm courts. Of course, most of these niceties incurred a slight fee – up charging is not a new marketing innovation from the 21st century. 

Second-class passengers had access to seven decks via an elevator. They were kept completely separate from first-class passengers. They too had a well-appointed dining room. But, theirs accommodated more than 2,000 diners rather than the more intimate 350 in first class. Their public spaces included a smoking room (also men only) and a library. Private rooms in second class on the Titanic were similar to first-class rooms on most ships. 

Third-class accommodations were much like those seen in the movie, with a large smoke and general room, and a dining hall that had three seatings to accommodate everyone. The third-class galley was roughly the same size as the Turkish bath in first class. Imagine the operational efforts required to ensure each of these different groups of passengers had the “finest” sail possible!

Given the luxurious accommodations, passengers were given another new service – access to the Marconi telegraph. It’s believed that approximately 250 telegraph messages were sent in the 4 days that the Titanic was afloat. Some say the telegraph operator was so busy sending passenger messages that he ignored (or de-prioritized) the incoming messages from other ships warning of icebergs.

At the same time, passengers also had access to mail service and many wrote letters. In 2012, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, BBC Radio in Belfast launched the podcast “Titanic Letters”. In the 42 episodes, famous people read some of the letters that survived the sinking. They are each 2- to 4-minutes in length. You can also check them out on Stitcher. Here are a few we found interesting:

  • Episode 1 – Ida Strauss, the wife of Isidor Strauss who started Macy’s, wrote a letter to thank her friends for the flowers in their suite. In it, she recounts Isidor’s viewing of a near-disaster as the Titanic left harbor - She declared that “the appointments were magnificent.” After writing that letter, she stayed with her husband who refused to get in the lifeboats until all women and children had been put on board. Both were lost in the sinking.

  • Episode 2 – Albert George Irvine, engineer room staff, describes an emergency drill to test how the watertight compartments were supposed to work in case of a problem. He notes that it was exciting to watch “the 50 steel doors come down, making the ship unsinkable.” 

  • Episode 10 – Father Thomas Billes, second-class passenger, who describes a typical day and the layout of the boat with its 8 decks above the waterline. He had permission to bring a portable alter and ended up conducting the last mass, right before the sinking. 

  • Episode 37 – Mary Sloane, a first-class saloon girl who was paid $12 for the voyage, tells of seeing the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews in his stateroom – “the look on his face was all I needed to know…”

As we share ideas about navigating uncertainty in The Titanic Effect,  we also share the decisions that White Star made highlighting how this startup also took on hidden debts. So, it really wasn’t the iceberg that sank the Titanic. It was decisions that interacted with each other to make hitting the iceberg unrecoverable. Our goal is to help today’s startups avoid these icebergs so they can be successful. 

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