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Amazon AWS will continue to compete with its best customers…

If you thought Amazon’s Prime Instant Films is just an exception of Amazon trying to compete with its best customer then you are wrong. This is not an exception but a rule. Simon Wardley just explained why Amazon is fast following their best customers and why more companies should do it to, even in the physical world. The summary is:

If you don’t want to launch a 100 new services and assume failure on 90-95, then let others launch thousands and you commoditise the successful innovations.

So what does this mean?

It means that if you are a young startup that builds everything on AWS then they will just look at the traffic that goes through your servers. If all of a sudden they see that you are picking up more traffic then anybody else, then they will launch a competing solution shortly that commoditises your business. Since they have access to your solution they can actually look inside and see how it works and redesign a more optimised solution.

How to avoid your service to be commoditised by a fast follower?

First of all move faster than anybody else. Full automation is key. If you are faster to respond to customer’s needs then you will attract all customers in a winner takes it all market. Also follow lean startup and A/B testing. Do continuous experiments and only scale up engineering on a new feature after it was demonstrated to be successful with customers on a small scale test.

Second, don’t build for one cloud, build for multiple clouds. If you use cloud orchestration solutions that allow your solution to be moved from one cloud to another one then you are less likely to be trackable by one cloud provider. Treat the cloud providers like they are commodity and move your workloads where it makes more financial sense. Whatever you do, don’t get locked-in by some proprietary services because you will have a hard time moving out. Just ask Netflix how they feel about having their platform ran on top of their biggest competitor’s infrastructure without a chance of moving a way soon. Don’t want to be in their shoes? Use a cloud orchestration solution. Don’t know any open source? Check out Juju

Third, assume you will have fast followers when you start so try to put barriers of entry in place. A good strategy would be to build a business on top of a network effect. Examples: Facebook has over 1 billion users. The more users the more synergies. Even if you would steal away all the code from Facebook and launch Headbook you would not be successful. Network effect businesses tend to be a winner takes it all markets as a consequence. The other counter intuitive strategy is to strategically open source parts of your solution. If you open source parts of your solution then there is nobody that can offer a “cheaper” solution then your freely available solution. So the incentive of building another solution to compete with a free solution is low. Additionally you will get contributions from others hence your team will be able to run faster than anybody else. Finally open source does not mean zero revenue. Netflix has open sourced their architecture. This means they lower their cost and higher their innovation speed but since you don’t have access to their content library and the multiple content they create themselves, it is extremely hard to compete with them. So open source those parts that help your strategy…

How to successfully attack a software dinosaur?

We all have “enjoyed” working with some software that was purchased because “You can’t get fired because you bought…”. This software is known for being the industry leader. Not because it is easy to use, easy to integrate, easy to scale, easy to do anything with,… It often is quite the opposite.

So why do people buy it? First of all it is easy to find experts. There are people out there that have been “enjoying” working with this solution for the last 10 years. It is relatively stable and reliable. There is a complete solution for it with hundreds or thousands of partner solutions. People have just given up on trying to convince their bosses on trying something different.

5 steps to disrupt the Dinosaur

Step 1: the basic use cases

The Pareto rule. What are the 80% of the use cases that only reflect 20% of the functionality.

Step 2: the easy & beautiful & horizontally scalable & multi-tenant clone

Make a solution that reflects 80% of these use cases but make it beautiful and incredibly easy to use. Use the latest horizontally scalable backends, e.g. Cassandra. Build multi-tenancy into the software from day 1.

Step 3: make it open source

Release the “improved clone” as an open source product.

Step 4: the plugin economy

Add a plugin mechanism that allows others to create plugins to fill in the 20% use case gap. Create a marketplace hence others can make money with their plugins. Make money by being the broker. Think App Store but ideally improve the model.

Step 5: the SaaS version

Create a SaaS version and attack the bottom part of the market. Focus on the enterprises that could never afford the original product. Slowly move upwards towards the top segment.

The expected result

You will make have a startup or a new business unit that will make money pretty quickly and will soon be the target of a big purchase offer from the Dinosaur or one of its competitors. You will spend a lot less sleepless nights trying to make money this way then via the creation of the next Angry Bird, Uber 0r Facebook clone.

 

Next Buzz: Social Enterprise Apps

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Social Enterprise Apps are the next buzz. Companies like Salesforce with Chatter, Yammer, Jive, Google with Google+, etc. all want to change the way employees work in 2012 by adopting Facebook and Twitter-like solutions.

At the moment it is too early to tell who will be the winner. Most products however are still just offering only basic features like status messages, connect to colleagues, share documents, etc.

The real interesting features are still to come. Employee driven process creation and management should make it possible for plain humans (not über-programmers) to define and manage company processes and to transfer a world of Excel, Access and other homegrown solutions to the Web and mobile world.

Operators should jump on the social enterprise apps bandwagon because calls and SMS can still be incorporated into this new portfolio of products. However not in the traditional manner. Since everybody has access to a phone, it could be used for quick approvals either by calling in, getting called or sending an SMS. Even faxes could be incorporated. Traditional companies might be more willing to move from paper faxes to online faxes instead of moving from zero to Facebook speed right away.

The key will be the ability to people to define and manage things themselves without needing support from IT or five level of approvals…

 

The traditional way of innovation is no longer good enough…

January 16, 2012 1 comment

Innovation used to be something related to an R&D department that would experiment with new technologies and a marketing department or product management that would ask customers what new features they required. The business team would be killing any innovation that did not present a business case which complied with company rules: e.g. x% margin, €yM revenue in two years, etc.

Why is traditional innovation no longer good enough?

The cost of launching a disruptive innovation that changes a complete industry has come down dramatically. There are many examples: Skype and roaming, Amazon’s Kindle and paper books, P2P and network bandwidth / media revenue, Salesforce and shrink-wrapped software, iPad and Windows PC, iPhone and Nokia, etc.

Disruptive innovations are more frequent than ever and enablers like Cloud Computing, Open Source, Off-shoring, 3D Printing, etc. allow innovators to launch big solutions on a modest budget.

Most traditional innovation is about evolving a current product by adding new features and improving current functionality. Traditional innovation focuses on prototyping new features and products and showing them to potential customers. However process innovations (e.g. Toyota Production System), business innovations (e.g. freemium), marketing innovations (e.g. Intel Inside), disruptive innovation, etc. are often overlooked.

Every one should innovate

More and more companies are convinced that every one in the organization should innovate and not only R&D and product marketing. By putting special innovation processes in place in which employees can share innovation ideas and use collective knowledge to improve them and get funding, innovation becomes more democratic and often more successful. Companies like Google allow employees to focus one day a week on innovation that can be totally unrelated to their day jobs. People vote with their time which project is worth it. Ideas are shared hence collectively the services get better.

Also upper management is no longer looking from above but should innovate by example. Name all big innovative companies and you see that founders are a big part of innovation and participate in it every week: Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin), Amazon (Jeff Bezos), Apple (former Steve Jobs), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg), Salesforce (Marc Benoiff), etc.

Daily Innovations instead of Product Releases

The large dotcoms (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) no longer do market research in the traditional way to find out if users like a feature or not. They also no longer focus on major product releases. Instead they focus on incremental innovations on a daily basis. Users request new features via social CRMs and the most voted features get implemented. Often a feature can have multiple implementations. Users are divided into different groups and new features get enabled for subgroups. If a new feature has a positive effect then it survives and gets rolled out to the rest, if not it gets killed or adjusted.

New products no longer get productized from an idea and afterwards customers are searched for it. Instead customer’s pain points result in paper prototypes that get validated and redrawn until they solve the problem. Afterwards real prototypes are made that get launched in beta or even alpha shape towards real users. Beta can already mean that users are paying for it.

Discovering New Innovations

Discovering new innovations is done by combining groups of people with different expertise (marketing, psychology, arts, technical, business, etc.), to understand a new domain and to question a status quo. Most of the time the best innovations are those that remove a status quo and make a painful activity into a joyful activity, e.g. LinkedIn: networking with people and keeping up to date your business network.

After questioning experts and novice users, innovative companies also observe how users use their products. Often heavy users or first-time users are unsatisfied with current products. New ideas are shared inside but also outside of the company with a network of experts as well as people with completely different skills. Afterwards solutions are built based on experimentation. A very important aspect is also being able to transport solutions from other industries. Making associations between unrelated topics and understanding how things are done in a completely different environment can bring new inside…

It is very important that different departments (business, marketing, operations, maintenance, etc.) all work towards launching new innovations and removing obstacles because killing innovation is very easy, making it succeed is not.

Some good books on innovation are: The Innovator’s Dilemma, Nail It then Scale It and  The Innovator’s DNA

How RyanCom would destroy the European telecom business?

November 23, 2011 3 comments

Let’s assume a new telecom competitor is entering the European market: RyanCom. Similarities to RyanAir are purely fictual :-)

1) The Network

Instead of building expensive antenna networks RyanCom would make deals with Cable operators to put Femtocell equipment in cable modems and as such cheaply get coverage in major cities. Everybody that would switch to a Femtocell modem in their home or office would get 6 months of mobile usage for free.

Ryancom would have an agreement with the smallest operator in every country to sublease capacity if a Femtocell is not available.

2) Target User

iPad, Tablet owners, Websurfers, Roamers, etc. Ryancom would allow one data plan for the whole of Europe. Since the bulk of the traffic would go via Femtocell, better access costs could be provided. €5-10-15/month to have €5-10-15 Gigabyte/month.

3) Backoffice systems

All backoffice operating and business systems would be running in a cloud and open source is heavily used. Since there are only a limit number of data plans, there is no need for a billing system. SaaS like Zuora are enough. Google Apps and Salesforce would also be heavily used.

4) Social aspects

Social aspects would be very important. There would be competitions going on for which subscriber can convince more friends to join RyanCom.   There is no helpdesk in the traditional manner. There is community support just like GiffGaff.

The End Result

RyanCom would be able to gain young data-intensive and roaming subscribers. They will see RyanCom initially as a second provider for their tablets. Little by little RyanCom could become their first provider when Skype and other applications become common use to make mobile calls.

RyanCom might be a fictional company but operators should be warned that fiction and reality might be just a matter of time…

 

 

Hurray SMS is death…

October 13, 2011 1 comment

October 12th 2011 Techcrunch declared the day SMS began to die. Why? 10-12 is the day that iOS5 was made available to the general public. In this update there is a new functionality called iMessage. iMessage will check if the person you are sending an SMS to is also using iMessage. If this is the case then the SMS will be sent as an instant message and not as an SMS. The technology is not new (e.g. Whatsapp, Blackberry Messenger). However it is the first time that users will no longer have to install a separate application and choose if they want to send an instant message or an SMS. Android is likely to follow shortly. Also interconnection between iMessage and other platforms is still necessary. However this is clearly an example of the Innovator’s Dilemma, disrupting an industry via the use of disruptive technology.

So why the Hurray? This is very bad news because thousands or even millions of jobs might be at stake in mobile operators all over the world.

The hurray is because innovation will finally come back to the telecom industry. The beginning of the end of the CFO promoted to COO promoted to CEO a.k.a. CFEO [FEO in Spanish means ugly]. The bean counters that were warned years ago that disruptive technology would destroy the mobile industry as we know it. However they choose to ignore the message and put into place RFP processes that kill any innovation, make investments based on short-term business cases, substitute vision & strategy for ROI, etc.

With major risk of disruption, it is time for mobile operators to embrace new ideas. To invest in innovative solutions. To try out new unproven business models. Or face the consequences. Me2-strategies are no longer enough.

At last long-tail partnership management (LTPM), Telco PaaS, Mobile PaaS, Big Data Analytics in the Cloud, Nanopayments, Mobile Graphs, Freemium, Telco Gamification, etc. it can all be proposed. For once the big question will not be, “Show me a business case with ROI in 3 months” but instead “Let’s set-up a tiger team and see how we can be successful”.

Don’t understand the message as if this is a return to the nineties where venture capital kept even the most rediculous dotcom alive (e.g. pets.com, webvan.com).

The next ten years will be the age of the commercially skilled visionaries leading the most successful companies. The CEOs that can look futher ahead then next quarter but that do not focus on research for research but on the next big business. CFO’s and COO’s will be still milking the cashcows. However the CEO will be worried about next year and no longer about  next quarter. The tragedy in life is that the one person that knew this period was going to come, passed away before it even started. This article is in memory of the greatest visionary of modern times: Steve Jobs…

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