How Innovation In Tech Has Changed
There are so many successful tech startups around us today. In recent history the likes of Instagram, Kik, Plancast, Angry Birds, Rapportive etc have kicked butt. In not-so-recent history we had apps like Facebook, Twitter, Ning, LinkedIn, iTunes, Flickr etc – now considered ‘platforms’ – take the world by storm.
So the question is: are we going to see any more platforms coming out of the tech startup industry at all?
I agree with Nikil Sethi, Founder and CEO of Adaptly when he says, “… it is easier and probably more profitable today to build a windshield wiper than an entire car.” I too think that going forward we will likely see less platform development and much more niche application development.
Here are some reasons why the good ol’ days of platform development are out:
- Startups have to prove themselves early on in their lifecycle –
They have to prove themselves either via quick user adoption or by showcasing a clear, direct and visible path to monetization. This is very hard to do if you are a “car”, simply because you might be so many things to so many different people along with multiple use cases; that it becomes very difficult to articulate and prove the value proposition of your platform.
In the case of little apps however, you can showcase incentive for use early in the game and build on user adoption by going after a niche or segmented market. Creating a brand new market and bringing functionality that people didn’t know they needed (like in the case of Twitter and Facebook) is much harder to be successful at. That’s why not very many people attempt it.
- Customer Development has become easier but a lot more competitive –
Most platform type apps are usually all competing for the same pool of users and early adopters. Customer development in this case isn’t easy – it’s hard to collect accurate feedback, pivot and get out there and effectively market your product.
There are so many marketing channels available today, but those customer development methods are available to everyone – leaving your startup competing for the attention of millions of viewers/users/early adopters. This changes the way startups think. It is considered wiser to piggyback on some established platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and use their already captive audiences to launch their product rather than go out and do customer dev from scratch.
It is much easier for a product to be competing for the attention of a very specific segment rather than go after a larger market. For example: Twitter is applicable to most internet savvy masses that are building brands or voice in some capacity. Whereas, Nikhil Sethi’s product Adapt.ly is applicable only to those internet savvy masses that wish to spend money on online advertising across a variety of social networks. Their market is very specific. Twitter’s is not.
- Tech startups have the increased pressure of recognizing revenue earlier in their lifecycle –
The enthusiasm for social networking and mobile apps has VCs clamoring to throw their money at early-stage companies. At the same time however, they have gotten used to shelling out wads of cash only to those that are able to provide a viable product and a direct path to monetization within the first few years of existence. After several successes both pre and post recession, investors are looking to be part of something that gives them quicker returns!
Investors want their money back faster. And, a new Facebook or Twitter just wont be able to provide this to them.
- Investment as well as adoption is slowly shifting to disruptive technologies –
Getting investment and acclaim for a brand new concept has one big challenge: it is brand new. You have to change the way people think, the way they interact, they way they manage their time. Whereas if you provide a simpler, faster, easier, sexier solution to an existing market – isn’t that innovation automatically more bankable?
Customer Development becomes a breeze because the market already exists and in some cases, might be literally waiting for you. Getting investment also becomes easier – you don’t have to convince investors a market exists.
All of the above reasons are nudging future innovation in tech towards niche application development. Bits of features and functions are going to dominate the future of innovation.