Archive | August, 2011

The $99 TouchPad and what it means in the post-PC era

24 Aug

Can you hear it? Behind closed doors across the globe, strategy teams for the biggest companies doing anything in mobile are scrambling. HP & Google have made some massive plays this past week and the course will be set for the post-PC era in the next 3 months.

HP’s fire sale this weekend over its sun-setted TouchPad tablet got me thinking. What if the money isn’t actually in the hardware? At $99, and no word on plans for the future of the platform, it still it rose to the top of the bestselling lists on Amazon and BestBuy.

You can talk about a commitment to a platform but the reality is consumers don’t pay for potential. They pay for fantastic products. Its not about great tablet hardware or a great mobile OS. Consumers want a complete product that they can pickup, use and enjoy immediately. Apple has proved this out time and again.

The $99 tablet sell-out bonanza said to me that consumers want tablets. The companies that figure out how to make money selling tablets by practically giving them away are the ones that will win.

The post-PC era is going to be dominated by the triple-A threat; Apple, Android and Amazon. Here is why I think that’s the case:

  • Apple: The juggernaut and arguably the largest company in the world is winning with fantastic user experiences and a fully integrated stack. Next up? A cheaper (or potentially free) phone for the emerging markets. The ease-of-use of an iOS device is that it so easily slips deeply into your pocket book seamlessly delivering you music, movies, TV, books and more. Over the lifetime of the device Apple will see far more margin on the device through goods sold on the platform than they do for selling the devices. Now everybody wants to be like Apple.
  • Android: Okay, okay. Its really Google but you know what I mean. So far Google has tried to monetize mobile with advertising with some success. However, they have yet to create a successful eco-system around their platform that gets developers excited and making money like Apple has. Google made a big play in acquiring Motorola Mobility. They will get a boatload of patents out of the deal but they also get phones and set-top boxes they control the experience on. This gives them an opportunity to build a complete stack where they own the whole eco-system. Is it no surprise that GoogleTV will soon allow Android apps to run on the platform? Imagine being able to have presence across your TV, computer and mobile device(s)? This is a bold play and Google is getting dinged for it. The key will be execution and how they turn it into a fantastic consumer experience. I don’t know if they have it in their DNA.
  • Amazon: Amazon is the sleeper in all of this. The Kindle is a great device and I resisted getting one for a long time. I love mine. Its actually a great experience. Interestingly enough, next to Apple, Amazon is the deepest into my pocket book. The Amazon Kindle tablet is inevitable IMHO. Now you can get your music, movies, TV and books from one device. Just like Apple. Better yet. Why not subsidize the device or give it away to Amazon Prime users? Its now a massively distributed point-of-sale device. Who needs a shopping list? Just order it from Amazon from your tablet.

The triple-A threat begs the question to all of the hardware companies out there; you can’t just compete with great hardware anymore. The decision HP has made to get out of the hardware business was really, really bold but the reality is in the post-PC era, how would HP compete in a consumer landscape dominated by access to media and content? It just doesn’t feel like its in their DNA. Getting out might prove to be a good play for them especially if they can be the cloud and/or service provider of choice for these mobile platforms and the companies that want to succeed on top of them.

And what of Microsoft? The Nokia deal was a coup but they still aren’t shipping devices and won’t for another 4+ months. Microsoft has to make a bold play in the next 3 months and its got to involve either RIM (not likely) or Nokia (potentially interesting). Microsoft has always shunned the hardware business but in the post-PC era, can they really do it again? They got lucky (yes, I’ll say it) with the deal they got back with IBM in the early 80’s but nobody is getting a sweetheart deal like that ever again.

One thing is for sure despite the macro-economic uncertainty right now, mobile is the future of computing and bets are going to be made in the next three months that will set the course of this post-PC era for years to come. What a time to be in mobile. :-)

Burn the ships

19 Aug

One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Hunt for Red October”. There’s something about Sean Connery as a Russian talking with an English Scottish accent. One of my favorite lines from the movie:

“When he reached the New World, Cortés burned his ships. As a result, his men were well motivated.”

Over the last couple of months I’ve had several meetings with aspiring entrepreneurs that are thinking about making the leap and starting something on their own. They come from all walks; agencies, stable jobs at big tech companies, young, old, men and women. Just about every instance they tell me about how they are trying to ween themselves off a client to become a “product company”. IMHO, making the transition from an agency or services business to a product one is hard enough as it is.

You have to burn your ships.

When we started Urban Airship pretty much all 4 of us were jobless. The company we had worked for had run out of money and so we were faced with unemployment or consulting. I had an interim gig for a local advocacy group but the reality we were all on a short timeline. Panic started to set in and I know all 4 of us thought hard about doing consulting as a cushion so we could start the business while still pre-revenue. I firmly believe that Urban Airship would never have had a chance if we’d gone down that path.

Michael, Adam, Steven and I made the conscience choice to go hard at building a business. Technically we didn’t burn our ships but the fact is, we had no cushion. Failure was not (and is not) an option. At the time I thought to myself, what’s the worst that can happen? I’m not going to be homeless. I’m not going to go hungry. I can always find a job in the tech world. That’s even more true today.

Spin down your clients quickly. Ween yourself off the services income and focus 1000% on your product and getting it to market as quickly as possible. Stop trying to “work a deal” that will give you a couple more hours during the day to build your business. The absolute worst thing that will happen is that you will fail.

Be like Cortés; burn your ships.

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