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Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

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New war of platforms?

Interesting article by Tom O’Reilly.

Perhaps days of fragmented but free-for-all web are coming to an end, as the gravitational pull of proprietary platforms – Facebook, iPhone, Google services – steadily increases.

On the other hand, many of these platforms in fact broke open spaces that were previously off limits to anyone but owners of the closed ecosystems and the few who bought their way in.

iPhone allowed everyone to write and distribute apps without mobile carrier’s blessing, and Facebook granted access to its social graph, allowing third party apps to take advantage of it.




Innovate products and not business models?

Umair Haque:

Business model innovation is often self-defeating and self-destructive. The real problem with business model innovation is that it dilutes the incentives to make good stuff in the first place. It lets boardrooms hide from the profound challenge of making insanely great stuff in the first place.

(…)

Business model innovation creates a kind of adverse selection. It offers a kind of insurance: if we can find more efficient ways to sell stuff, we don’t have to make better stuff. When we invest in selling stuff better – instead of making better stuff – unsurprisingly, the stuff we make often turns into lemons.

Another hint to focus on building great products instead of relying on business-side trickery.

(and yes Ogito, being a great product or at least a future great product, will charge for usage… maybe just after getting it to work under IE6 which, even though is a piece of junk, also seems to be favored by all my corporate, i.e. deep pocketed, friends)

Commenters note that there are cases where business model innovation also leads to virtuous loop that enables great products. I think Google and search ads business model could be one such example (although Google not exactly invented this business model).

On a side note, I’m amazed that this sort of writing came from Umair; I used to read his Bubblegeneration blog, where his articles seemed to consist in a large part of words he created himself. Must be “innovate ideas and not vocabulary” principle at work.




Learning from Twitter, Facebook

Lately I’m mostly busy with community functionality of Ogito and I’m trying to take advantage of some intuitions from Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve had Facebook account for some time, but was never an active user. Twitter I never used at all, even though I had some experience with blip, a Polish twitter look-alike. So I opened a twitter account to experience the original thing.

My initial goal was something very close to twitter – or how I imagined it should feel like before actually using it. Low barrier of entry, easy to use, one information stream carrying all the relevant user updates.

After playing with Twitter and reading reactions to Facebook latest redesign, which makes social network look quite similar to its much smaller competitor, my vision is evolving a bit.

In fact I wasn’t disappointed by how easy it was to start using twitter. The application is lighthearted and inviting, also because the community seems to radiate with enthusiasm of the early converts.

On the other hand, and maybe it’s my lack of experience with the app, the updates stream seems overwhelming, difficult to read continuously and unstructured. Figuring a conversation from exchanges of replies is one example when I’m quite lost (stream of given users shows replies he directed at someone, but not the other way round, so it’s hard to understand the context).

Facebook feed was supposedly better. It had intelligence to handle updates (status vs activity reports) differently. It lost this advantage after redesign and maybe this is why so many people hate it.

Given that we will have a lot of non-status related updates, Facebook (as of before redesign) might serve as a better inspiration.

Its latest redesign also suggests a number of points where caution should be applied (I’m basing it mostly on this summary in huffingtonpost): overuse of user thumbs, large fonts and trivial updates, lack of real time view.

Of course, many of the complaints (photos flooding the feed em masse etc.) will be resolved by subsequent fixes.

Search getting fragmented, verticals most likely to fall to… Google

I’m reading an interesting post by John Borthwick.

Search is fragmenting into verticals. In the past year two meaningful verticals have emerged – one is video – the other is real time search.

It’s interesting and for me well, personally encouraging, because one can think of what I do with Ogito as going into vertical search. Kind of real time, too (time sensitive, at least).

There is also a funny episode from a while ago, when AOL thought of itself as an ultimate disruptor (natural-born disruptor?).

It was an interesting argument – heart felt and in the early days of the Internet cycle it seemed credible. The Internet leaders would have the creative DNA and organizational fortitude to withstand further cycles of disruption. Christensen didn’t buy it. He said time and time again disruptive business confuse adjacent innovation for disruptive innovation. They think they are still disrupting when they are just innovating on the same theme that they began with. As a consequence they miss the grass roots challenger – the real disruptor to their business. The company who is disrupting their business doesn’t look relevant to the billion dollar franchise, its often scrappy and unpolished, it looks like a sideline business, and often its business model is TBD.

Rest of the post serves to prove that “real time web” is the next disruptive wave (especially for Google). I though real time web is another Robert Scoble bullshit, because for some time he was the only one that I read hypeing up this theme, but maybe there is something to it after all.

I’m not convinced that there any major reasons for Google not to dominate the new niche, though. They did it with video. And with the blog search, earlier. Real time search companies may still end up like Technorati.

Google solved 90% of search: Microsoft has a problem

Microsoft believes that search is still far from maturity. Steve Ballmer emphasized how much search sucks currently at recent analyst day presentation. “It’s still 10 blue links on a white page”. “50% of searches don’t solve the problem”. And so on.

It’s important for Microsoft to believe that search is still a space for radical innovation, because to say otherwise would be to admit that the game is over and that Google won it. Customers are unlikely to switch from Google, unless other vendor presents a serious advantage over Google’s search.

On the other hand, Marissa Mayer just described a slightly different view on future of search, a future of incremental (and laborious) improvements rather than disruptive innovations:

(afterward she softens this point somehow – guess the original message might have not resonated well with Google’s investors)

Search is a 90-10 problem. Today, we have a 90% solution: I could answer all of my unanswered Saturday questions, not ideally or easily, but I could get it done with today?s search tool. (If you?re curious, the answers are below.) However, that remaining 10% of the problem really represents 90% (in fact, more than 90%) of the work.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, it is Google who is best positioned to use its critical mass to slowly but surely improve search.

Google might be actually right in its view of the market, but search (information retrieval) is not the end of the story, right…

Lessons learned from Che

I’m sorry to admit, but as a side product of the Cuban trip I continue to find myself fascinated with Che’s life and undertakings.

As mentioned before, I found Cuban revolution interesting due to the notion in which a group determined individuals could turn the tables on a (seemingly) much stronger opponent (lesson of persistence).

Particularly inspiring are the following events from struggle in Cuba: almost a total initial defeat just after the expedition’s landing, continuous desertions of guerrilla fighters losing faith in the struggle or giving up to the hardships of life in the jungle, gradual build-up of critical mass due to a sequence of small victories – sometimes achieved in a very accidental manner – which nevertheless resonated within the society.

Having said this, success of the revolution and the fighting concept that it employed (focus on rural areas, no support from a strong political party, etc.) was determined by number of factors specific to Cuba, which revolution leaders could be ignorant of.

In the end Che paid with his life for this ignorance in Bolivia. He overestimated influence of his leadership and failed to appreciate Bolivian specifics in applying the template of Cuban revolution.

Conclusion: no success is possible without alignment with external factors, and since many of them are unknown ex ante – it all boils down to luck and intuition. On the other hand, no amount of luck in setting the initial course will substitute persistence in following it.

All this is more entertaining because through the diaries one can emphasize with Che’s evolution as an individual, from the motorcycle journey, through Cuba, to the Bolivian failure (even though unfortunately I don’t have the copy of Bolivian diaries yet).

Search in CEE: Google is an underdog in some countries

Antyweb quoted the Next web article about search in Russia. What’s interesting in Russian search? It is not dominated by Google:

Most European search markets are dominated by Google and there seem to be no real local competitors. In Russia however, a fierce battle for the search query’s of the consumers is going on. Yakov Sadchikov from Quintura even mailed me that “the Russian search engines are coming.”

Reasons? Commenters point at different character set and language peculiarities (for example different grammatical cases).

Thanks to friends at Gemius I had an opportunity to read some interesting stuff about Internet markets in other CEE countries.. and Russian case is not the only one, even though in most countries Google rules the market.

In Czech Republic, for example, Seznam.cz has approximately 60% share in search. But, Google search is gaining share there.

“Other” search engines have also significant share in Ukraine, Slovenia and Estonia.

In Poland, on the other hand, Google has 90% of the market, grammatical cases notwithstanding.

Steve Jobs’s hidden corporate strategy

Businessweek suspects Steve Jobs of a hidden agenda, aimed at getting into corporations.

Hints: iPhone functionalities aimed at corporates, co-existence of Windows and OS X made as easy as ever.

Meanwhile, my Mac just changed hands in Wroclaw and is set for the final ride to Warsaw. It’s been a long journey.

Mac’s purpose is far from innocent as my corporate colleagues, knowing me, could immediately tell.

Strategy as a cost

Bret Taylor, ex-Googler, on “cost” of strategy in larger organizations:

With 70 people the odds that two people are working on the same thing are probably pretty low. With 17,000, it’s almost a 100% that two or three people will be working on the same idea, or at least very similar ideas, at different parts of the organization. I think there is a certain amount of cost to just coordinating that activity. I’ve been really impressed with how Google has been able to scale, but inherently it has to change – just because there’s that coordination cost.

I think some bloggers call it “strategy tax.” You know, when you grow, your strategy becomes more and more important, and it taxes sort of everything you do a little bit… because everything you do, it strays from that strategy. You know, there’s a huge cost to that. Whereas I think for smaller companies, the strategy is less well-defined, or certainly the impact of straying from it is much lower.

Startups are adaptive, as friend told me last weekend, when worthy people come together to realize something, even if the first idea doesn’t work, they are always going to figure out a promising alternative (but first you have to make a jump in any case).

FriendFeed, Internet garbage dump or a gold mine

1) Joseph Weizenbaum, who created psychiatrist simulator called Eliza, dies at 85. WSJ article quotes him saying (link by Valleywag):

The Internet is like one of those garbage dumps outside of Bombay, there are people, most unfortunately, crawling all over it, and maybe they find a bit of aluminum, or perhaps something they call sell. But mainly it’s garbage.

2) Friendfeed, basically an RSS aggregator of person’s online activity with added functionality of comments, becomes the latest Internet hit. Scoble loves it, Duncan Riley at Techcrunch covered it and but didn’t see much point, louisgray replied to him with a blog post titled Duncan Riley Misses the Point of FriendFeed, which gained this comment by Ontario Emperor which i.a. explained why it is so useful to add another layer of commenting possibility to the “artifacts” that we produce:

(…) sometimes it’s not appropriate to comment at the original artifact. For example, one day I tweeted

“@commuter ont i10 eb jammed at euclid. 2 rt lanes clsd @ 4th. vineyard archibald offramps clsd.”

Then I subsequently added a metacomment via FriendFeed:

“i was 10 minutes late for maundy thursday rehearsal. my fault.”

The metacomment wouldn’t have made sense as just another tweet, but it made perfect sense as a metacomment overlaid over the previous artifact.

3) Ability of events in reality to generate “artifacts” is virtual reality is growing fast. These first artifacts can attract reactions, which themselves gain status of artifacts and are reprocessed (aggregated, commented on) further.

4) It reminds me of financial markets, which started with rather simple “artifacts” for real things (e.g. currencies), then built so many virtual layers on top of them, that in the end few people can understand the further chains of abstraction.

5) If financial markets were indication, the social sphere can be expected to generate amazing volume given its original “real” base, at the same time becoming unpredictable and impossible to understand for the majority of people.

6) How can social sphere be understood to be “unpredictable”..? In a way illustrated by recent Sarah Lacy interview and the twitter-enabled audience?


Technorati :

Creating new markets with “blue ocean” strategy

I might appear to have been living under the rock, because it is only now that I read the famous “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. The main idea behind the book is to focus on creating new market space, instead of getting entangled in deadly fight for existing one.

Red oceans are existing markets. Red from competitive blood. Blue oceans are (usually) undiscovered market spaces. No competition there.

It is well described how to operate on red oceans. Strategic positioning, benchmarking, etc. Red ocean strategy is heavily inspired by the military (zero sum game). I’m afraid that we consultants work usually on red oceans.

The book might well be inspiring, even if it simply reuses some concepts supporting individual creativity in the corporate setting. Concepts like “out of the box” thinking, identification of hidden constraints, taking unusual point of view for inspiration etc. is repackaged for use in the enterprises.

Remarks related to improving corporate planning process itself by turning it more into “strategic conversation” remind me of Kees van der Heijden approach, which used scenarios to facilitate uncovering hidden drivers and communicating the strategy.

Monetto partners with Nasza Klasa, should they go with Goldenline instead?

More recent post: Nasza klasa and facebook

Monetto was kind enough to send me their press release, announcing partnership that they concluded with Nasza Klasa (Polish equivalent of classmates, but more of a Facebook phenomenon in terms of popularity).

Not that I could do anything with the material while in the Ukraine, but still a point for their PR.

One curious thing is the homepage screen shot they attached to the press release.

20082008 Monetto homepage.jpg

Some static elements are evidently in a “draft” state at the moment, and it’s not clear if the core functionality (transactions) has the same status. Placeholder for press snippets shows that Monetto has really high hopes. Folks at bankier should take note.

20080205 Monetto napisaonas.gif

Back to the main point. From the press I understood that:

  • Monetto signed letter of intention with Nasza Klasa regarding the partnership, which will work as the following (in my understanding) –
  • Users of Nasza Klasa will be able to “confirm” their profile using Monetto capabilities (more info on blog entry: “test” money transfer and sending ID scans by email)
  • Additionally, NK user will be able to indicate on his profile that he wants lend/borrow money
  • Nasza Klasa hopes that it will improve credibility of the service (validation of profiles) and reduce problem of fake profiles
  • Monetto hopes that users redirected from Nasza Klasa will in part get interested in P2P lending and use its intermediation
  • The actual contract between two sites has not been signed yet

Meanwhile the release was picked by Gazeta Wyborcza, which reprinted it, without hesitating to spin the point about raising Nasza Klasa credibility to describe it as a site which “more and more often raises mixed feelings”. Get over it, Gazeta.

But in the end they comment that the deal has a high potential for both sites and can harm competitors a lot and especially kokos.pl.

My first thoughts on the deal below.

(read more…)

P2P lending on bootstrap – notes

Between burger and an ice cream in Hard Rock Cafe I jotted down notes from today’s bootstrap. I needed them in electronic form anyway. I wrote down stuff which seemed useful for me, so it’s not guaranteed to be complete.

This time it was in an unusual for boostrap form of a panel. Meeting took 3 hours, but I found it very interesting. Technical people might beg to differ, though, as tax/legal discussion was really exhaustive (exhausting).

I made some comments below in the notes, but here I can also share my “first impression” of the P2P lenders present. It is really first impression because I didn’t bother to check them myself, so some doubts below might be result of this.

  • Finansowo – approach to start as simple as possible, no collections or support in executing transactions between peers. The biggest risk is that some things that they ignore seem critical (collections).

  • Monetto (blog)- most advanced approach, ensured partners from the beginning, including bank (mBank) and collectors. The biggest risk is that they start with a very complicated machine that no-one will use.

  • Kokos – midway between the two, with the advantage that it is already up and running.

On a first glance I like Finansowo and Monetto, because they follow clear-cut concepts of simplicity and exhaustiveness, while Kokos was less clear, at least as much can be judged from the presentation, and also takes cautious approach regarding some legal challenges (e.g. possibility to grant anonymity and stick to electronic contract form).

(read more…)

Microsoft to take over Yahoo!, aim for more failure

Strange, but sometimes things that are expected to happen, actually do happen. Microsoft announced a hostile bid for Yahoo.

I so like the bid to succeed. That’s because I feel strongly about the result of this take-over and I would love to verify my hypothesis.

My hypothesis is that the market shares of the two do not sum up. MSFT will lose focus and instead get entangled in restructuring of Yahoo!. Users will get the combination of the two worst, in my personal view, experiences – Google will be able to differentiate even more strongly through simplicity and focus, playing contrast to the new behemoth with combined dna of committee-driven software factory and a portal.

Or maybe the above will be proven wrong and Google will at last get a worthy competitor.

(Even though falling price of MSFT stock indicates that I’m not alone in my opinion of the contrary.)

In any case, this merger going ahead will be decisive, this way or another, for both Google and Microsoft.

China not so easy for the VC

Article by David Hornik (VC) on his impressions from trip to China.

One line summary (I’m in a hurry:): Chinese market is great, but there are few real entrepreneurs. And there is no effective legal protection for investors, so you have to count on the culture not to get screwed by Chinese entrepreneurs. But unfortunately the culture makes it ok to screw foreign investors.

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