Building a platform: Lessons from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google
In my new book, I contend that businesses of all types have entered a new age – the Age of the Platform. Four companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google) have invented an important new business model. Think about it. You probably use at least one of these platforms on a daily basis – and hundreds of millions of people use them regularly.
So, how can your small business embrace platforms?
What are platforms, anyway? And why should small businesses care?
We’ll answer these questions shortly. First, let’s get our terms straight. The word platform has become a buzzword, often misused by pundits, thought leaders and media types.
In the book, I define planks as integrated features, services or offerings of a platform. A platform, then, is merely a series of integrated planks. For instance, the iPad isn’t a platform; it’s merely a plank in Apple’s platform – and a really profitable one. The Google platform is composed of Gmail, Maps, Docs, search and a bevy of other planks.
What’s more, in this platform-driven age, the following holds true: Just about every small business can benefit from developing its own platforms, planks and ecosystem. What’s more, you can benefit from utilizing existing platforms and ecosystems.
In fact, you should use them as planks in your own platforms. All else being equal, companies that have embraced platforms and planks will fare far better than those that have not.
Now that we have defined our terms, let’s move on.
Tip No. 1: Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Are you thinking of launching a new product? How about writing a book? It’s never been easier to test the waters. For a micro-business short on funds, sites like Kickstarter allow would-be entrepreneurs and authors to test their ideas in advance. Think collaborative commerce. In a very short period of time, you can create a multimedia webpage and attract contributors.
And this same principle holds true with launching your own social network. To be sure, you can use Ning or another private network -- and there certainly are benefits to doing so. But these days it's downright silly for small businesses to ignore the 800-pound gorillas: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter. These sites can be effective ways to build your platform since millions of potential customers and users frequent them.
Tip No. 2: This is not 1997 – and your website should reflect that.
In my last book, The New Small, I wrote about small businesses with primitive, text-based, downright ugly websites. I refer to them as ’90s sites because, well, they look like they were built in the 1990s – and not updated since.
Robust content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and others are more platform-friendly than static HTML sites. This means several things. First, you can easily add planks to your sites, including blog posts, plug-ins, widgets, social media integration, podcasts and videos.
What’s more, these CMSs scale exceptionally well. For instance, WordPress sites face no real limit on the number of pages and blog posts they can contain. If you have something to say, blog five times a day if you want – then add a bunch of videos. These platforms are incredibly user-friendly. That is, you don’t need to be a professional developer to create a robust, modern, inexpensive, compelling and interactive website.
Tip No. 3: Be patient.
In Age of the Platform, I contend that even the smallest of small businesses can build a platform; they are hardly the sole purview of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. And I should know. I built my own over the past three years. While I won’t be selling more books than Amazon anytime soon (dare to dream, right?), I am doing better than I would if I had no platform – and no planks.
Because any small business can create a platform, don’t expect yours to explode overnight. Effective platforms take time. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google did not emerge overnight. Keep adding different planks.
Now, what will you do in 2012 to build a platform for your business?