Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

Twitter will be replaced

March 23, 2009

Yeah, yeah, I know everyone is talking about how sexy twitter is getting. It’s the place to be right now. If you aren’t on twitter – then you need to get with the program….

blah, blah, blah

My mom is on twitter, my wife is on twitter, my company is on twitter, mostly everyone I know is on twitter. This is all good for twitter, it makes twitter useful. In fact, it has inspired twitter to go look at selling, make some improvements, and look at making money again. Have a look at Read Write Web’s latest post regarding the proliferation of twitter. This thing is definitely going mainstream (hint: if you are mainstream – go create an account)!!

A couple years ago, we were at the same cross roads with blogs and blogging. We may be a little earlier in the cycle with twitter, but I would also pose that our culture is more accepting of these tools, so it’s still the right time to make the prediction. When we were at this cross roads last time, I wrote a nice little prediction blog post. Dated December 18th, 2006 – My 2007 Prediction: Blogs Will Be Replaced garnered a bunch of people telling me I was wrong, telling me that blogs were growing in proliferation and would be the ultimate supremacy for brand management, community interaction, etc. Yes – blogs didn’t disapear. Yes – blogs are great community interaction tools. Yes – Dave Winer is still blogging (despite his promise). Yes – the concept of blogging is great for news reporting, signaling, and information disimenation….

But Blogs were replaced – they were replaced by twitter and to some degree facebook. As marketing departments took over blogs and corporate employees (such as Microsoft PMs) began getting blog posts added to their annual and quarterly goals, the early adopters, the people who made blogging popular, the crowd that tested, evangelized, and vetted the technology moved on. Sure the bloggers still blog a bit (I still blog at this blog) – but along with everyone else (including Dave Winer), I spend a lot more time on twitter – twitter has replaced my excitement for blogging the same as it has for most bloggers who started earlier in this decade with the new cool thing called blogging.

So the question is – what will replacae twitter? Like my earlier blog post about blogging being replaced, I don’t know the answer. I do know that an opportunity exists for a few entrepreneurs. There is the space of helping people get onto twitter (some entrepreneurial consultants have started this already – but there is room for more). There is also the space of creating the next thing for all of us early adopters of social/community interactive/writing/commenting tools to use.

We need to go somewhere – our current tool has been taken over by the mainstream and thus will be replaced.

Startups, small businesses, and definitions – oh my

December 1, 2008

I was recently commenting on a nPost’s blog about What Defines a Startup and ran out of room for an effective comment so wanted to expand on it here.

 
First let me re-cap the basics of nPost’s blog entry…

 
Nathan poses the question, what defines a startup and offers a few thoughts about what might define a startup. Things like:

  1. Having been around for less than 5 years?
  2. The number of employees it has?  If so, how many would that be?
  3. Whether they are bootstrapped, a sidestartup or funded?
  4. Their growth rate?  If so, how quickly do they need to be growing? 10% a year? 500% a year?
  5. A scalable business?  Can a lifestyle company be defined as a startup?
  6. A product company?  How about a professional services firm, are they a startup?
  7. Simply “I know one when I see one!”

A good discussion follows in the comments about these seven suggestions and a number of additional suggestions that are along the same line. Eric Koester has a similar post on his blog, My High Tech Startup. More opinions about how much money a company has, how long the company has been around, or how it is funded as effective measures of startups.

I pose that none of these general properties of a business define a startup. Properties like amount of cash, where the cash came from, how many employees, what the growth rate is, what the potential total market share is, etc are all properties that any kind of business can have. Whether it is a services business, a retail business, or a manufacturing business, a multi-national conglomerate, a national chain, or… a startup, any company can have any combination of these properties.

If we look past the generic properties of the business and into the core we can easily recognize a startup. If we look at the core of a business we see two basic things:

  1. What a company has to offer (product, service, etc)
  2. How a company will make money with that offering

When we look at traditional businesses – consulting firms, web design firms, data center hosting firms, coffee shops, etc, etc. What comes to mind is a well known offering and a well known way the company plans to make money with those offerings. These types of companies can meet nearly all of the generic properties listed above, it just depends on how it’s being run, what the goals of management are, etc.
Any type of business owner can build these traditional companies; they can be built as business lines for well-established companies, as new ventures (locally or worldwide), as lifestyle businesses, or be as any other kind of new business scenario. The fact that they are a traditional company does not necessarily make them less fun, less interesting, or in some way less cool, or as Eric puts it – less sexy. That is all up to management.

 
If we look at a startup though, we see something different. We see a company that has something different from the traditional companies above. These different companies, these startups have been around for a long time; however, they only seem to be abundant during large societal advances (such as the industrial revolution, the internet revolution, etc). The properties of the startups that we relate to (high risk, high reward, generally VC funded, generally small teams, generally dynamic in nature) are all a byproduct of the fact that the business the startup is in, is bringing something new to the world. Bringing a new product to the world and offering it in a way that will make them money in a new way. This is hard to do with a business that has properties different than those we generally associate with a startups (most banks won’t give loans to unproven ideas, large teams make the flexibility hard, etc).

It doesn’t matter if that new product is new to the world, new to a segment, so long as it is new. If it is a net new product on the market (not a new shoe design, but a new product) AND is being produced to make the creating company money in a new way, then the company definitively falls into the category of startup.
For tech companies, the examples are easy to dig up…

 
Web 1.0 companies like; homegrocer.com, pets.com, and eToys all fall into this category – new product (offering groceries, pets, and toys for sale online) – new business model (no store front, just a web front w/inventories managed in various ways). Yes I know pets.com didn’t sell pets, but maybe they should have.

 

Of course, these companies failed, they didn’t quite get the right mix of product and business model (which is another property we associate with startups – high failure rate). There are others that did get the mix right – amazon.com for one, was able to stay flexible and fluid until it could find a way to make this online sales thing work with a business model that made money. Others like paypal and ebay all found the right mix of product offering and business model that worked. These were all startups and are now in established markets with products and business models that aren’t new, so they are no longer a startup.

 
Fast forward to 2008, companies like Amazon are continuing to build startups within their existing companies; Amazon Web Services is definitely a startup – new product offering, new business model. Facebook is definitely a startup – new product offering, new business model – time will tell if it will truly be successful, but it’s definitely a startup. There are lots of other startups around with new products, new business models. More are cropping up in clean tech, bio tech, and continuing to pop up in other areas as well. Look at the iPod and the online music store – incremental innovation over the walkman (new product) and a new way to buy music (new business model)… voila – another startup within an existing company.

 
On the other hand there are lots of companies that are high tech companies that are not startups. There are lots of young companies that have products or business models that are well known and at least moderately understood. They are simply trying to execute better or with different goals than other companies who have done it before. Some of these companies are even in funky spaces, have long working hours, and the look and feel of a startup (VC funded or bootstrapped, under 20 employees, work out of a loft in pioneer square, etc); however, they are building a business that has been built before – which means – not a startup. A small business, a high growth company, call them something else (something other than a startup).

 
If you are looking for a good measure to evaluate your status of startup against, take a look at the case studies at the major B-Schools, take a look at the existing companies that are out there, take a look at your competitors, and take a look at what business models and products are the hot topic these days. If you fall into one of these categories – if your product and business fall into an existing group – you are not a startup. On the other hand, if you are innovating with your products and your business model, well – welcome to the club!!

 
I’m sure there are lots of other opinions about this, Wikipedia has some random definitions that I think need updating as I’m sure all of you do.

More on innovation

July 24, 2007

I’ve mentioned innovation in the past and it seems my fellow EMC blogger has some interesting thoughts on the subject as well. I won’t say much about Chuck’s insights into evolution, human advancement, or Darwin’s theories…..

But his basic premise that true innovation is organic and innate in the person or team innovating is a good one. There have also been a few others talking about how innovation happens (see Dare’s post on the same topic and Stowe’s post on work group organization). Perhaps they are all off reading Scott Berkun’s new book….

If you look closer at how evolution happens in nature, it comes from both migration and innovation….one species migrates to a new land, or a person brings seeds to a new location…. or in the case of innovation, one species discovers a new use for something or discovers it doesn’t need to use something and hence evolves out of innovation. If you compare these two methods for evolution with the premise that Dare puts in his post (mimicking other companies is a good way to innovate), that may or may not be true. It all depends on the environment that the actions are being performed in.

Getting back to Chuck’s analogy….. Let’s look at the advancement of mankind; there are heavily argued reasons why hunter/gatherer societies remained hunter/gatherers even after their neighboring settlements moved on to be farming countries. Even today in places like Namibia there are several hunter/gatherer tribes who have a choice of remaining hunter/gatherers, becoming farmers, or working for modern companies/economies. So why is it then that they don’t? Why is it that after trying it some hunter/gatherer tribes have made every effort to return to being hunter/gatherers? While others accept the changes whole heartedly and advance their tribe or community?
I don’t claim to be a sociologist or an anthropologist (and even if I was I don’t think I could definitively answer the question)….but the relation to innovative companies is what is important. Mimicking other companies or people does not guarantee success… In fact, not mimicking the other companies and evolving at your own pace may breed better results. This directly relates to IT departments and software development companies…. accepting the staff’s talents and almost exploiting their natural aptitudes will almost always naturally equal innovative success…. after all it is human nature to be creative and innovative (regardless of how large or small the creation is).

The old overuse of Darwin’s theories and saying companies need to change the way they work to succeed, innovate or die, only the strong survive,blah, blah, blah….. Sorry it’s not true. People are people…. they need to be nurtured so that they can naturally innovate. Maybe a little careful guidance from management, or maybe management needs to change the company direction (or hire a different set of people that will better align to their current direction), the bottom line is a group of people will naturally produce a culture and that culture will use external influences (copying other people), re-use old influences (migrated habits from old companies), and create new ideas for other people to use (original thought). Engineering Management, Program Management, etc all need to understand the simple concepts of creating the environment that enables the innovation that the employees will naturally produce when given the chance…. Then again most folks on the web have already figured out that last part. That’s why giving techies free lunch, a few toys, and a chance to relax on their lunch break is more successful then a stuffy conference room presentation by some sales guy in a suit!

Btw, Scott, you really need to get both of your books into audio format so I can finally get to reading them :p

Are you Innovative?

April 20, 2007

At the last MindCamp, I had the opportunity to attend Scott Berkun’s session on innovation. After which I have been an avid reader of his blog and posted some of my thoughts on innovation….

He has a post up regarding large companies and innovation….most people like to bash the large companies like MS, IBM, etc and say they can’t innovate because they are not a startup company. Scott’s research (for his book) sheds some more light on the topic and will hopefully help with some of the racket about how these large companies can’t be creative.

Curing Informationitis

January 26, 2007

It really did start out as a joke, Informationitis…. but the term is quite fitting to the problem at hand. As I think about it more, there is more to say about it. If you stop and think about the information problem, you’ll realize that there really area lot of Technology departments that don’t know what to do with information. You know what I’m talking about, IT departments that are filled with kernel programmers, Layer 2 protocol developers, and ham radio operators…..Lacking in a lot of these departments are the actual IT workers (yes devs are needed, admins are needed, helpdesk is needed, but that can all be outsourced)….people who understand how the technology solves the business problems and can make the technology solve those problems is hard to come by.

A lot of technology departments are starting to realize there is this job they have called managing information with technology…..To do this, all the old and new standards a being implemented (ITIL, MOF, CobiT, etc)….hmm, kind of odd – maybe these technologists should have pursued information management a little more heavily from the start…

Now wait a minute, a lot of you aren’t even this far up the chain yet!! ok, fine! Chuck, of course. has some advice for you on how to influence a change in your organization. Perhaps you should take a look and evaluate where technology can really provide value to the business overall? There is usually a broad range of places to start and Chuck of course outlines the primary places that most people are having trouble with. Before you get to the standards approach, think about the organization, the business, and the value of using and re-using your existing data to drive value throughout the business….then begin a thought out approach to showing that value to your peers.

Of course if you’d prefer to wait, there are groups of people researching and discussing the intricacies of handling information and may be able to generate better tools to help the consumption….this research and the outcomes still won’t solve the management of all your data, although it may help hide the underlying problem.


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