If you thought Amazon’s Prime Instant Films is just an exception of Amazon trying to compete with its best customer then you are wrong. This is not an exception but a rule. Simon Wardley just explained why Amazon is fast following their best customers and why more companies should do it to, even in the physical world. The summary is:
If you don’t want to launch a 100 new services and assume failure on 90-95, then let others launch thousands and you commoditise the successful innovations.
So what does this mean?
It means that if you are a young startup that builds everything on AWS then they will just look at the traffic that goes through your servers. If all of a sudden they see that you are picking up more traffic then anybody else, then they will launch a competing solution shortly that commoditises your business. Since they have access to your solution they can actually look inside and see how it works and redesign a more optimised solution.
How to avoid your service to be commoditised by a fast follower?
First of all move faster than anybody else. Full automation is key. If you are faster to respond to customer’s needs then you will attract all customers in a winner takes it all market. Also follow lean startup and A/B testing. Do continuous experiments and only scale up engineering on a new feature after it was demonstrated to be successful with customers on a small scale test.
Second, don’t build for one cloud, build for multiple clouds. If you use cloud orchestration solutions that allow your solution to be moved from one cloud to another one then you are less likely to be trackable by one cloud provider. Treat the cloud providers like they are commodity and move your workloads where it makes more financial sense. Whatever you do, don’t get locked-in by some proprietary services because you will have a hard time moving out. Just ask Netflix how they feel about having their platform ran on top of their biggest competitor’s infrastructure without a chance of moving a way soon. Don’t want to be in their shoes? Use a cloud orchestration solution. Don’t know any open source? Check out Juju…
Third, assume you will have fast followers when you start so try to put barriers of entry in place. A good strategy would be to build a business on top of a network effect. Examples: Facebook has over 1 billion users. The more users the more synergies. Even if you would steal away all the code from Facebook and launch Headbook you would not be successful. Network effect businesses tend to be a winner takes it all markets as a consequence. The other counter intuitive strategy is to strategically open source parts of your solution. If you open source parts of your solution then there is nobody that can offer a “cheaper” solution then your freely available solution. So the incentive of building another solution to compete with a free solution is low. Additionally you will get contributions from others hence your team will be able to run faster than anybody else. Finally open source does not mean zero revenue. Netflix has open sourced their architecture. This means they lower their cost and higher their innovation speed but since you don’t have access to their content library and the multiple content they create themselves, it is extremely hard to compete with them. So open source those parts that help your strategy…
How do you know if your company is making billions but is about to be disrupted? Imagine you were working at Nokia some years back and you just made a record year but at the same time both the iPhone as well as Android were going viral. If you would have known back then what the future had in store, then you would have switched to Samsung, Google or Apple and would now be an affluent star instead of a jobless dinosaur. What are the 5 signs you should have picked up?
1. Viral competitors
If your competitors are having more potential customers than they can cater for and your company hasn’t: red alert.
2. Lack of leadership
Can you name any Nokia CEO before Elop? [Author of the worst CEO email ever, the one about leaving the burning oil platform but offer no place to go].
3. Many new products but no successes
Remember the first touchscreen Nokia phone. I can not belief anybody liked that product.
4. Growth by expansion
Nokia was growing revenues not because they sold more units in Europe or the US but because they expanded very aggressively globally. Their money maker was their most basic product line that was sold in developing countries. This was in contrast with their competitors that were growing like crazy in Nokia’s key markets.
5. Old technology that is not user friendly
Remember those J2ME times. You wrote apps and packed them in a format that in theory could work everywhere. However users would have to be very persuasive to actually install your application because they would go through several scary dialogues about them really being sure they wanted to install this package.
Who is working in the next Nokia?
Any telecom employee!
1.Viral competitor: viral Facebook/WhatsApp and Google/Hangout
2. Leadership: Except for Cesar Alierta, name 3 telecom CEOs?
3. New products: any new products your operator launched that you were not ashamed to show your friends? Anybody???
4. Growth by expansion: Telefonica’s cash cow = Latin America. Spain is economically dead for them. WhatsApp is growing strong in Spain.
5. Old technology: SS7. No further argument needed.
Any other industries?
Retail vs. eCommerce [Bezos against the world]. Retail banking vs. PayPal/Stripe/Square/etc. HP/Dell/IBM vs. AWS/Azure/etc. VMWare vs. OpenStack.
If you think/know your company or industry is on the list, then nothing better to do then to start crafting your CV and to get up to speed on the competitor’s innovations. Several ex-Nokia experts found good jobs at Apple and Google in the early days. Waiting means you get to see how a new CEO can burn down a successful empire in 24 months…
In the same week Twilio announced global SMS delivery, WAC was declared a failure.
Was it a surprise? Not really. Developers want simple APIs that are cheap and global. Twilio offers this, WAC does not. Are operators learning anything? The answer is they are not.
Telecom dogma 1: Users will not use a service that is not a global standard.
Internet response: proprietary APIs.
Telecom dogma 2: 99.999% availability with expensive hardware and Oracle RAC is the only way to launch a telecom service.
Internet response: Amazon and Rackspace virtual servers and MySQL.
Telecom dogma: I am the king. I put prices and users have to pay them.
Internet response: $1/virtual number, $0.01 SMS/call per minute.
How can a company with less than 100 employees offer better pricing than the actual network owners?
Operators are thinking ROI in 6 months and then ask what users might like. Internet players launch something simple and cheap, get continuous feedback and improve the service. In 12-36 months they dominate the world.
Know any bad service on the Internet that had a good ROI in 6 months? If you do not provide what users want, ROI will be a lie in your Excel. Forget 99.999%, forget RFPs, forget 40-70% revenue shares, etc. Either you innovate and launch in 3 months with daily improvements afterwards or you will not be an Internet player. The alternative is being a bit pipe. But even there Freedom Pop, Free.fr, Google FttH, etc. might spoil ROI…
The short answer is no unless you operate in a part of the world where there is no regional IaaS. The longer answer is:
Amazon is running their AWS services with a cost-plus pricing model. This means they aim for a 10% profit margin. Every time they have improvements in their economies of scale, they lower the price to get back to the 10%.
Although Amazon has healthy gross-margins, the IaaS is all about investing in hardware and R&D. This means that volume is the name of the game. Although Amazon is making IaaS into a billion dollar business, the number two player (Rackspace) is around $285M for their IaaS business. This shows the winner-takes-it-all.
How are operators going to compete?
Competing at price with Amazon AWS, Rackspace, Gogrid, etc. will not be an option given that they are lowering pricing continuously.
Competing with better technology is also almost impossible because Amazon is THE marketleader for IaaS innovation with services like DynamoDB. IT players are just doing catch-up and any operator that will use an RFQ process will just be buying previous-generation-software and hardware. This means in Cloud terminology: legacy systems.
Operators could give better SLAs then the 99.95% offered by Amazon. However in the world of cloud computing, SLAs do not mean anything. If you want availability, then you are better to implement a multi-cloud strategy in which you use multiple cloud providers and your software can move dynamically between them.
Trust? IBM and other IT players can provide that as well. They have been in the Cloud space for more time then telecom and are quicker at deploying technology.
Networking reliability, QoS and speed? Yes but only for a niche segment of the market. A segment that is unlikely to be big if you look at the local nature of most operators.
Geo-localization reasons? YES. This is probably the only valid reason why in Africa, some parts of Asia and Latin-America, operators should look at IaaS. However in Europe, the US, Australia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, etc. this can not be the driver.
So unless you are targetting some very specific low-latency or high data volume nice markets or are in a part of the world where reliable networking and electricity is hard to get, you are unlikely to make your CEO happy with IaaS. You should think about other parts of Cloud Computing like PaaS, business processes as a service, networking as a service, etc.