Tag Archives: Investment

Seeing The Future Sometimes Only Needs Looking Under The Hood

The-JetsonsSome (or most) news blurbs deserve (or require) more big-picture consideration than what is immediately prevalent on the surface. Coverage of GM’s investment of $500M in Lyft is just one example. While part of GM’s hoped-for returns is based on the opportunity for providing fleet cars for Lyft’s services, a more “sexy” consideration is the development of self-driving cars. If you look with broader goggles, the implications for both are much larger than what they seem.

First off, numerous car manufacturers are developing products specifically to serve the shift to car sharing. Just this past September, I met with a representative of Citroen in Paris who explained how they are looking at alternative ways to find revenues in this new economy without selling vehicles – and they are certainly not alone. If micro-payments can revolutionize politicking, investment and charity, why can’t the same be said for larger ticket items like automotive, housing or even luxury accouterments?

The self-driving cars offer an even more exciting opportunity that comes with its own set of numerous implications far beyond individuals transporting themselves without having to focus on driving. Over coffee with Jason DaPonte, Transport For London’s Director of Innovation, we had a great conversation about the future and how self-driving cars could absolutely affect people’s normal use of subways, buses and trains. In fact, there’s every possibility that those vehicles could become an integral part of a municipality’s services – or modes of transportation. If you thought controlling buses, trains and subways was a feat, imagine what it’ll be like when hundreds or thousands of automated cars are whizzing around a congested city like London!

With all this, there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of time to pass before we figure things out. We will probably look back at the airport challenges of Uber and Lyft, or the growing legal parries with Airbnb’s lodging structure and chuckle about how quaint they were. Ultimately, with the growing shared economy and smarter use of technology to do the mundane, it requires a sense of how these pieces fit within the big picture to really grasp our future.

Who knows, maybe that kick-ass transportation of THE JETSONS is not so far-fetched anymore…

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What’s Up With Narrow-Mindedness When Judging Technology Firms?

With the brewing storm of excitement/dismay/wonder surrounding Facebook’s acquisition of What’s App, the disconnect between expectations for – or public perception about – large conglomerates and new technology business seems to have widened. Much has been discussed about melding What’s App into Facebook’s interface or bringing advertising into What’s App’s in or just a Big Data play.  Perhaps it’s much simpler than that and has nothing to do with UX or building up the Facebook product.  Perhaps it has to do more with smart business and diversifying offerings. It just seems funny that the initial response is narrow-minded in relating the technology as merely an opportunity to bolster a company’s product.

Perhaps a lot of the thinking is related to Facebook’s relatively recent acquisition of Instagram.  Almost immediately, the photo service seemed fully integrated into Facebook.  But, to be fair, it was already there and there is still easy integration with other platforms that Facebook doesn’t own.

The thing is, would anyone question if Unilever or Nestle or some other company that owns a diversified group of products were to buy another relative upstart – especially if they had so much cash lying around?  The only concern people could or should have is the valuation placed on What’s App. That too can come back to the consideration of development resources and user base.  What’s App might not have been hugely known in the U.S. but it is around the world and by anyone who has family, friends in colleagues in other countries.

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In this connected world, we can no longer just focus on what’s happening in North America. Whether people realize it or not, most web-enabled products (websites, apps, software, etc.) have no borders. The use-cases might be different from market to market, but they each gain hold for very real business reasons.  In the case of What’s App, one direct reason that folks in the States don’t realize the value is that all-you-can-eat data and mobile packages are not commonplace around the world. It can be quite cost-prohibitive to send texts to your friend down the street, let alone around the world.

Another key piece is the fact that What’s App has moved into the subscription realm. As more offerings move behind a paywall, the lessons that can be learned from What’s App success in subscription could prove invaluable to its owners. The data is certainly not available to those who are not and if subscription-based usage come further into the market, those with real data are in the driver’s seat.

While Google has huge development teams working on disparate products and they still go out and acquire business that fit their portfolio, it should come as no surprise that others shouldn’t do the same.  Google has long been less defined by their search product than their suite of technologies that assist in many parts of consumers’ lives.  Facebook should not be any different.

The great thing about technology development (or any business development, really) is that code and process can be duplicated in other areas – if done correctly. Just because someone makes it big with an app or single product doesn’t mean that should be the end-all – no matter how successful it is. There is no such thing as growth while remaining flat. Any company with flat growth is actually shrinking. Once the business survives its start-up phase, growth is the hardest part. It doesn’t matter who you are or what technology you created. Sometimes you just have to grow by acquisition.

Who knows if the $19B is too much for What’s App. Looking at the $10B value associated with Instagram after Facebook paid a “measly” $1B for it, we can’t underestimate Facebook. There’s a clear reason why What’s App’s investor, Sequoia Capital thought it was worth it. The reality is that new technology companies and the products they launched with have matured more quickly, perhaps, than any other businesses in the world. We’ve got to stop being narrow-minded in our judgement of why they should be any different from any other traditional business.

Uncovering the Next Great Digital Product Marketing Platform

What makes digital marketing both exciting and frustrating is the quickly growing different opportunities to get your product to market and the challenges to keep up with those ever-growing outlets.  Marketers have a tough time keeping up with this quarter’s hot properties and digital extensions – let alone having the opportunity to research or know about all of the latest and, perhaps, most cost-effective way to spread the word about their product.  There are platforms that can be leveraged popping up all the time and companies need to be open to finding them.  In one case, a large company has created such a platform for enabling other companies to spread the word in an unexpected way. With the enticement to Get On The Shelf, Walmart’s recently launched online contest enables companies to vie for inclusion in the retail giant’s site, receive shelf space in the stores and more.

The contest allows people to place videos touting their products of any kind – with any level of production value – and enter a fan voting mechanism that is meant by Walmart to mimic that of AMERICAN IDOL (whose newest season began last night – the same day as the Walmart press release.)  After an entry period that ends February 22nd, there will be two votes that winnow down finalists in the same structure as the Idol juggernaut.  In this case, your product can become a star – at least at Walmart – but there’s more value than that.

Beyond the face of the contest, it provides some great secondary benefits that Walmart is calling out on the site and some that are not.  In some ways, it’s a benefit even for those who don’t win. By allowing virtually anyone to place their products on the site for judgement by the public, it’s a defacto bit of market research on a larger scale than the North Carolina woman selling a marmalade could ever hope for.  The opportunities  go way beyond local mom-and-pop endeavors.

A product called Sifteo Cubes is one of the entrants and I had seen them before.  Wherever I had seen them, I did not get a full picture of what they actually did.  By coming across them here, I became more intrigued.  So, that extra point of contact with a consumer in a different way could be helpful. Additionally for a company that might already have their product established on a small-scale, Walmart says they will help selected companies scale up production. Beyond possibly gaining another distribution outlet, companies could parlay the interest from the site – votes, views, etc. – to receive further financing or learn how they might be able to better position the product.

Now its up to Walmart to do their part by getting the word out and driving traffic to this site.  It’s all fine and dandy to say you are doing it – and it is some nice spin for them to intimate that they are helping the local smaller companies – but it really means nothing more than a press release if they don’t advertise it properly.  I have no idea whether they have a spend against AMERICAN IDOL on Fox, but it would make sense to include at least one spot to tout this contest.  Could the price of the spot be too high for something like this?  Maybe.  I believe they are doing this as a brand extension and promotion, so if the spot is constructed the right way, it makes perfect sense to run a spot themed to Get On The Shelf.

Unless you are concerned about others with deeper pockets duplicating your product – which should lead you to question how sound your business plan in – it doesn’t hurt to leverage these types of opportunities.  In the least, you are garnering free video views for your product with opportunities for tremendous upside. With marketing platforms like this, you’ve got to be open to finding them, vetting whether they are good for your company or product and then setting realistic goals for what you want to get out of it.  If you’re only aiming for the goal of winning the contest – in this case – you are wasting some precious opportunities (market and positioning research, word of mouth, buzz).

That next great digital marketing platform could be right under your nose.  Don’t let your eye on the (perceived) prize blind you from the opportunities that can come from the most random of places.