Posts Tagged ‘Enterprise2.0’

3 ways to spot Startup opportunities

February 20, 2009

Our story thus far..

I left employment back in 07 to do an MBA in Entrepreneurship with the UK’s Top Entrepreneurial University. I loved every MBA minute. When I finished I convinced one of my best friends, Simon Oxley, to leave his well paid corporate job with all its benefits to start a business. We really did ‘burn our ships’ as we did not know what we were going to startup in. We left ourselves no choice, no retreat!.

tn-burning_ships

However, we did have alot of experience in the Tech industry and knew we wanted to sell b2b.  We looked around and could see Web2.0 was moving into companies with Enterprise 2.0.

To get involved with this emerging trend we built and launched an Enterprise 2.0 informational website. The website proved to be great experience but did not and was not going to make us money.We decided we wanted to develop software but we needed to work out what we were going to build. Reflecting back I think we spent too much time figuring out what to do. It seems that this is a common problem for startups. We now know what we are going to do with our Aware Monitoring service.

Spotting Startup opportunities

My MBA and on the job learning experiences have taught me many things on what,  how and where to find startup opportunities:

  1. Using prior knowledge – Market experience is a wonderful thing. It brings deep understanding of customer problems; insider knowledge of the competitive landscape; awareness of market changes and there impact’s. This knowledge can be harnessed to identify new and emerging opportunities in a given marketplace.  Warning: care needs to be taken that the opportunity is a ‘gap in the market’ and there is in fact a  ‘market in this gap’. Many market gaps are unfilled because they are a unprofitable. There is also no such thing as the ‘perfect opportunity’ and competition is inevitable.
  2. See opportunities in Change – Change brings opportunity as I discussed with my ‘5 career alternatives for start-up founders during the recession’ post. This change can be driven by technology, demographics or government policies. The famous academic Joseph Schumpeter refers to technological change as ‘Creative Distruction’. However to realise the opportunity these changes bring, startup founders must have the ability to turn a idea into reality. ‘Talk is cheap’ as they say.
  3. Social networks – Even when you’ve found that world changing opportunity that’s only the beginning. An opportunity needs to be tested with friends, soft prospects and real target customers. It must be sold. Because there is no such a thing as the perfect opportunity openness to  new ideas must be maintained. New improved sub opportunities may present themselves as the initial opportunity unfolds. An idea changes as you talk to your social networks and attempt to sell to real life, paying customers.

Our  opportunity search..

By September 08 we had refined all our ideas into four final opportunities. I still think these are good opportunities with great potential and will share them with you. Please prove me right and turn these into a real business. The challenge is not just in knowing where an opportunity lies but in the implementation. Paul Graham of Y combinator lists a ton of opportunities saying ‘imaginative people will take them in directions we didn’t anticipate. .’

  1. Tagging software for unstructured data i.e. photo’s, files, etc (problem: information overload)
  2. Climate change website/portal/Social network (Change: behaviour change forced by the world’s increasing temperature)
  3. Virtual conference platform (Change: forced decrease in travel because of climate change)
  4. Preventative web systems  monitoring (Change: more reliance on web systems)

We’ve taken the 4th option with Aware Monitoring.  We’ve also speeded our pace up. It’s been a neck breaking last four months: we’ve committed to an opportunity; wrote and presented a business plan,; built a prototype; started full development; found a product name (with matching URL); got a logo and now this week we have a Launch page. It starting to feel real and the SaaS market is showing signs of blooming in the down turn 🙂

The Death of Salesmen with “Power to the people”

June 26, 2008

How we buy things and how they are sold is continuing to change. Remember before we had Amazon, Ebay and forums to review and rate stuff. We used to talk to salespeople but now we are increasingly listening to each others opinions and buying on-line. We are now moving into a time where consumers (retail consumers and business users) can directly control the product design and features they want. This change has significant economic and organisational implications.

For many years on-line communities have been operating in the background. In 1998 Before Microsoft crushed Netscape in the ‘Brower Wars’ Netscape gave birth to the Opensource Mozilla project, which produced Firefox, now the most downloaded software in history. Against Microsoft Netscape’s browser marketshare went from 90% to 1% and today Firefox sits at 18%. Fundamentally consumers want choice and value products which they can have input into producing. Opensource is destined to grow much further with this user involvement.

Another example of this change is from the renowned innovation academic Eric von Hippel of MIT who believes the Threadless business model has “tapped into a fundamental economic shift, a movement away from passive consumerism” and he goes onto say “everything is moving in this direction”. In the Threadless model the customers design the products and serves as the sales force. Customers opinions tend to be trusted as they are real and honest.

The tables have turned with suppliers no longer gradually driving innovation but communities of consumer’s actively pushing innovation forward through participation. The idea of the ‘Wisdom of Crowd’s’ argues that groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them. This theory is supported by academics such as Andrew McAfee of Harvard. Web2.0 is a another example because it has lead to Enterprise 2.0 which in turn is putting a spotlight on current management practice limitations and should result in management innovation to a more open structure.

With 1,407,724,920 Internet users the rate of change is increasing, however many of our existing firms organisational sales and marketing structures are unable to keep up. Firms generally understand the need for product, process and management innovation, however organisational hierarchies are not like consumer communities they are slow and careful. And so new organisational structures are formed within fresh new companies, that if successful, grow to become dominate forces. This is classic entrepreneurial economic innovation, however a point which really struck a cord with me at the Boston conference from Don Burke of the CIA was ‘at no other time has the rate of technological change been so rapid within a life time.’

The latest evolutionary organisational form seems to be a firm with no sales force and a marketing department focused on community building and relations rather than advertising or branding as discussed by Umair Haque of Harvard. Most importantly this new structure moves innovation out of R&D and puts it in the hands of the employees closest to the customers.


“Power to the people” – Citizen ‘Wolfie’ Smith

Today’s innovation challenge for many firms seems to lie with too much power with too few people. Perhaps the answer is in trusting employees to make and take the decisions, who are not afraid of making mistakes along the way. Some old wise firms will make the jump into the new model, however many won’t and the faces of our leading companies will continue to change at an even faster rate than in the past.

Enterprise 2.0, Boston Judgement Day (4) – Who should the customer believe?

June 19, 2008

With so many choices when selecting a Web2.0 Enterprise 2.0 strategy, who should the customer believe: the vendors; the analysts or themselves? Seeing the numerous vendors categorised at Tony Byrne‘s CMS session, selecting the right solution must be a difficult decision for any customer. I heard many customers during the conference say that the event was too much of a ‘Vendor fest’, which was echoed at the final ‘Town Hall’ feedback back session.

Despite all the vendors shouting from the rooftops the majority of the case studies presented were using Opensource applications (Three out of the five: CIA; Sony and Pfizer). Even the wonderful case from Lockheed Martin was customised on the ‘included’ version of Sharepoint with a massive 14,000 man day effort. Interestingly there was talk from Lockheed of Opensourcing their code and expressions of interest from the audience .

Was the stark difference between what we saw from the vendors and what we heard from customer cases because these users were early adopters (visionaries) prepared to work with unpolished Opensource? Or is Opensource providing the working products, with the help of in-house technical expertise, being demanded by customers. It is well know in the industry that some Opensource is better than commercial code.

Unfortunately I missed the opinions from Opensource Panel session at the Conference with Bob Bickel of Ringside Networks, Jeff Whatcott of Acquia and John Newton of Alfresco but caught up with them on John Eckman  MP3 recording.

Perhaps Enterprise businesses are now looking to free applications as in the Web2.0 world. It is a compelling argument, free/low cost and working products. There is no doubt Opensource is on the rise, as supported by Jeffery Walker of Atlassian. Yet only 5% of vendors at the conference were representing this large and growing community, a view shared by Kathleen Reidy and John Eckman. Interestingly some of the commercial products at the conference are reliant and partially build upon Opensource, some even up to 80% I was reliably informed! Customers maybe starting to question why pay for an application which is built on Opensource. The problem with Opensource is it can sometimes be poorly packaged and can need a lot of attention to set-up and maintain.

The cases presented at the ‘leading Enterprise 2.0 conference’ shows that customers are ‘baking’ or testing solutions before fully implementing them as recommended by Tony of CMS. Opensource offers a very attractive approach to testing and trying before buying. I believe customers are increasingly listening to each others experiences, believe less in the vendor’s promises and are more willing to use Opensource. However, as Milton Friedman said ‘There’s no such thing as free lunch’. Customers say they want more case studies and less vendor pitches. However, someone has to subsidise conferences and pay for the commercial development work to round Opensource products off for the mainstream.

I believe the balance between Opensource and the proprietary commercial software is going to change with many vendors having to move more towards a business model like MySQL(pre-Sun) or MindTouch who were at the conference. Because many of today’s vendors are so proprietary and lack flexibility they may not be able to make this transition. However the challenge Opensource vendors have is making healthy revenues from a very diverse, demanding and large customer base. Currently the most effective and successful software vendor model for the future still remains unclear.

Enterprise 2.0, Boston Day 2&3 – Flying in a swarm of competitors

June 15, 2008

It is an amazing time of change in the computer industry. The convergence of the media on the Internet, computing in the cloud, the growth of open source and the move to a more collaborative business environment all bring much uncertainty, but also great opportunities. All this change is creating a flux of new industry suppliers, large and small, who are all vying for the attention of new potential clients.

Jive Software and Atlassian are two firms that are being surrounded by a swarm of new start-ups and the big enterprise vendors. These pure play software manufactures have slightly different products, Atlassian with Wiki’s and Jive with an integrated social suite. Both firms have a comparable history and are now of a similar size and face the same competitive challenges. With all this frenzied market activity I’m interested in understanding their marketing strategies and outlook for the future. I met with both of the firm’s marketers at the Boston conference to understand more.

The President of Atlassian, Jeffery Walker (RadioWalker, blog) is a well liked veteran of the computer industry. Atlassian have a very strong market specialization with their developer wiki products and a large user base. Over and over we met and heard from many Atlassian users at the conference. Jeffery is very bullish about Wiki growth for Atlassian saying that ‘Enterprise 2.0 is already in the mainstream’. I disagree and think we are not there, just yet. Sam Lawrence (Go Big Always, blog), the likeable energetic marketer from Jive, felt that the market is moving towards the mainstream through increasing ‘market awareness’.

Atlassian is using a soft sales approach to market their products, with a ‘try before buy’ attitude, relying on referrals and product quality for the product to sell itself. They see themselves as being transparent rather than having a pushy sales force. It seems Atlassian avoid overselling and under delivering their products. Sam felt Jive’s uniqueness came from their employees ‘strong enterprise knowledge and experience’. It was evident that both firms are focused on understanding their customer’s needs and delivering on expectations.

When asked what effect IBM/Microsoft will have entering Enterprise 2.0 market Jeffery felt that IBM will be a force and that both vendors had the ability to ‘Flatten earth’ through Commoditization. Interestingly he also thought that ‘Open source is going to get much bigger’. Jeffery believes that the pure play vendors need to sell more than just one product, and must have a market leading product to survive the challenge of new vendors entering this space. Sam felt that customers had lost trust in some of the larger vendors and are now looking for ‘working product’s’. Interestingly, both marketers have the view that products must live up to there expectations.

Finally, Jeffery felt that the further international expansion of Atlassian and operating in today’s volatile market are major future challenges for Atlassian. For Sam the big challenges are to make sure that Jive continues to be ‘part of the conversation’. This is a challenge for any smaller firm in a growing and changing market. Of course it is Sam’s job to be heard and he seems to have the ability to stir things up through his provocative marketing voice. The other challenge Sam referred to was in packaging Jive’s products to solve specific problems rather than being a solution looking for a problem.

I think the challenges and changes created by a swarm of new suppliers including the powerful enterprise vendors are the growing pains of an early market with great potential. Today the Enterprise 2.0 market boundaries and products are still emerging and remain unclear. These discussions have reinforced my view of the changing nature of customer expectations from vendors. IT vendors increasingly need to deliver on their product sales and marketing promises rather than rely on marketshare and power.

Evolution or revolution for Enterprise 2.0 vendors?

May 27, 2008

The ever militant Fidel Castro once said ‘A revolution is a struggle between the past and the future’. The evolutionary or revolutionary stakes are getting higher in the Enterprise 2.0 space with the giants IBM, Microsoft and Oracle demonstrating their financial muscle at the Enterprise 2.0 Boston conference. These enterprise vendors are now the top sponsors at this event for the first time as highlighted by Susan Scrupski.


Fidel Castro

But are the Enterprise vendors serious and really committed to Enterprise 2.0 and if they are where will this leave the current Enterprise 2.0 vendors such as Socialtext and Jive? Alternatively, is the Enterprise market in the mists of revolution where the giants will be overthrown by a new software model as suggest by Sam Lawrence? Of course the answer is complex and difficult to see.

A brief historical reflection reminds us of the colossal mistakes and monumental triumphs these giants of the software industry have made in the past. Remember when IBM gave away the early PC O/S to Bill’s firm which still enjoys market sector dominance or how frustrated Microsoft currently are at missing out on the enormous Ad funded growth achieved by search engine firms. However these Enterprise vendors became big because they are clever survivors having evolved. When IBM shifted its attention to services it became the largest IT service in the world, after missing the browser innovation Bill famously turned Microsoft’s resources to counter act Netscape’s market traction and remember how Larry at Oracle out manoeuvred everyone with SQL.

Unlike Cuban politics that resulted in the country remaining in a void between past and future the software industry moves very quickly, every 18months they say, and with the Enterprise 2.0 stakes rising we should not have to wait too long to see an evolution of the past enterprise vendors or a bright newcomer future. The software big guns have the advantage of deep pockets, mountains of resources, and large and often loyal customer installed bases.

Source: Forrester

With the major software vendors initiatives and investments into Enterprise 2.0 are we witnessing them preparing to defend their territory with their powerful guns? The large vendors certainly lack the entrepreneurial flexibility of the younger dynamic small firms which have been directly meeting emerging end user problems and needs with fresh a Web2.0 approach.


The big guns of Navarone

Throwing money at an emerging marketplace will not necessary bring success to the big enterprise vendors because of the changing nature of IT and the well documented difficulty and commitment needed to change the direction of such large organisational ships. However, if the current Enterprise 2.0 players are to continue to enjoy success and move more into the mainstream Enterprise market I suspect they are going to have to make a change in tact because of the increasing interest of the software giants with their aforementioned strengths. Only time will tell whether this is a revolution or evolution.

$100 “Golden” ticket for Enterprise 2.0, Boston 2008

May 16, 2008

Hi Folks, The nice guys at TechWeb (formally CMP) who run the Enterprise 2.0 conference have given me a $100 voucher ticket for the June 9-12th June event to give to you.

If you want it just let me know via a comment or email (info@viisys.com) and we will send you the code. Next week I’m planning to write a preview of this event and my firm will be releasing a NEW Enterprise 2.0 information portal (E20portal.com) all about E2.0 before June 9th, so keep an eye out.

In your wildest dreams you can not imagine the marvelous SURPRISES that await YOU”

Refocusing less on numbers and more on quality creation

April 29, 2008

Over the last few weeks I have been discussing, overheard and read about Enterprise 2.0 Return On Investment (ROI). I’m familiar with this term having used it in the past to justify and overcome financial objections when investing in IT technology. ROI is a cost saving measure with the argument being: you invest in this product or service now; you will pay off the initial investment by this date; and then you are left with a reduced operational cost.

Firms invest in IT to reduce costs through increased efficiency or invest to increase revenues by gaining long term competitive advantage. In the 1990’s investing in an email infrastructure was justified on early mover competitive advantage and today email has become so commoditised it is seen as a cost of doing business. Businesses and some suppliers are attempting to put an ROI on Enterprise2.0 tools but history shows ROI does not work with collaborative tools.

Our current management approach to business teamwork projects is woefully ineffective as highlighted by the research in Susan Scrupski excellent blog post. Enterprise2.0 has the potential to bring valuable business benefits through increased team collaboration, however cost saving ROI IT projects are often seen as a more attractive option because of the short term measurable gains.

A typical project to innovate a process or product can be challenging to measure and has a high possibility of failing, let alone delivering an ROI. The result is firms choose not to innovate because of the risk of failure.  Sucessful innovation projects often come from the people on the ground who understand customer problems and needs. Enterprise 2.0 can bring competitive advantage through the firms often most expensive and unique asset, their people.

But how far do we go? Pampering staff seems to be a trend in software development firms such as Google with their free cafe, games rooms and other generous benefits. Compelling benefits are also being used by small firm such as Carsonifeid in the UK offering a Macbook/iphone and 4 day working week for new employees and 37 Signals also on a 4 day week will even  pay for your hobbies.

People are not machines that produce at a constant fixed rate and ROI does not work with them or the tools they use. Making a knowledge worker work at a continual high rate or long hours does not increase the employers return. The focus needs to be on quality and not quantity output. The time management guru Tim Ferriss refers to attention currency and the innate human ability to only have so many quality attention hours. Googles benefits are not just trying to attract the best quality staff, they are also providing an environment where the people have the energy and time to create together.

Knowing the numbers is key to any organization, however if the focus shifts to working overly by the numbers we can lose sight of our people and unhappy staff effect future profits. Because of the perceived long term and unclear returns many firms are unwilling or unable to take a more quality approach on teamwork. This is the challenge in justifying an Enterprise 2.0 management approach and the associated technologies.

Unlearning the technology bible to find transformation innovation

April 21, 2008

Last week I was challenged by a blog reader as over using Geoffrey Moore’s technology innovation curve. In 2006 Crossing the chasm was described by, Tom Byers of Stanford, as “still the bible for entrepreneurial marketing 15 years later” and only last month AIMM produced a  thorough 90 page report that uses the innovation curve categories to track the progress of Enterprise 2.0 technologies:

This report aimed to define Enterprise2.0 and uncover firms perceptions and positions on this emerging technology. Rather than summarize the report you can find views on Niall Cook blog post or CMS Wire ‘Organizations Still Don’t Get Enterprise 2.0’.

Moore’s technology innovation curve acts as a guide to past patterns of innovation and can shed some light of possible future patterns. The innovation curve has become so engrained for such a long period of time, in the timescape of the technology market, the real value is to be drawn from predicting the behaviour and actions of industry groups, who have faith in and play by the rules of a industry standard ‘bible’. I therefore think it is fundamentally important to understand the rules laid down by a gospel of technology innovation, before the patterns generated by these rules can be broken and transformational innovation realised.

By transformational I refer to a changing of the rules of the game as Google has achieved with their run away success ad generating model, much to the annoyance of Microsoft’s Ballmer referring to Google’s as a ‘one trick pony’ in 2007 and Microsoft’s change in strategy the same year, ‘We are ‘hell-bent on succeeding in ads’, Ballmer .   

Ballmer punching air

 

Naturally the ideas from Crossing the Chasm are not without there weaknesses and the book could do with updating as highlighted in an article in 2007 by Alex Iskold of Read Write Web, however it does offer us an platform from which to predict the cause and effect patterns of both customers and industry players. Players such as Microsoft and Oracle who hold the gateway to the convensional route of the mainstream market. My point is that to find truly significant innovative possiblities we need to understand how a market thinks and then unlearn all we have learnt to really innovate. As Einstein put it, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”

Turning 2.0 potential into mainstream reality

April 15, 2008

Andrew McAfee of Harvard University provides an excellent example of effective blogging to a target audience. In 2006 McAfee coined the phase ‘Enterprise2.0’ when he published an article which ring fenced Web2.0 technologies adapted for business to bring real organisational value. Tools such as Wiki’s, Blogs, RSS, Tagging and Search enable users to Search, Link, Author, Tag, Extend, Signal collective information and knowledge. Since 2006 McAfee has taken the mantel of these new business tools and work methods to spread the word of a better way of work together in business.

Being an evangelist you would expect McAfee to be a good Blogging example, however I’m astounded by the sheer volume of hits on his site (6.5m) for such as niche area and the position the site has propelled him to. Ziff Davis Enterprise has ranked McAfee at 38th in their list of ‘the 100 Most Influential People in IT.‘ ,to which McAfee attributes his blog as the ‘main reason I made the list’.

Two years since McAfee’s report Enterprise 2.0 tools remain in the mainstream sidings only offering the potential to bring value and benefits to firms. The most important party in this equation, The Customer, sees the potential but many remain hesitant, unsure and in some cases unconvinced. Here are some thoughts on E2.0 from US CIO’s in February 2008 (CIO Magazine):

Industry consultants and market researchers have found objections to implementing E2.0 tools include: resistance organisational cultural change; the need for an integrated set of E2.0 tools; integration with existing applications and cost. Many E2.0 tools originated from technical innovators, for example Wiki’s (Wiki, Wiki means very quick in Hawaiian) was originally used by software developers for easier documentation and has evolved into business use overtime. These tools have now moved beyond innovators to visionary users who can see the potential business benefits. Reflecting on Geoffrey Moore’s book ‘Crossing the Chasm’ the point of change from the Early adopter (Visionary) to the Early Majority (mainstream), Moore describes the early majorities need for industry specific references, experiences from know relationships, a competitive market and low risk decisions to buy from a reliable provider with a quality, integrated and well supported product set.

Innovation does not stand still and these current E2.0 tools will evolve and change to meet customer needs and problems. As the big boys of the software industry such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle start to sit up and take notice of the user interest these tools are generating they will start to introduce new offerings. The hyper activity on McAfee blog is perhaps evidence of the potential business users see from E2.0 tools, with suppliers following the potential demand, keen not to miss out on a new wave of innovation.

It remains to be seen which of these tools in their current form will go mainstream and what exactly they will evolve to become over time. One thing we can be sure of is that the underlying problems E2.0 products are helping to solve such as effective team working and information / Knowledge management will not go away. It is highly likely that current problems, such as our increasingly overflowing in-boxes, will continue to scale the priority list until the problems become totally unmanageable and solutions must be found.