A basic difference between a 20th Century company and a 21st Century one

NYT Article Asks Whether It’s a Good Idea for Investors to Pump Tens of Millions of Dollars Into Startups With Half-Baked Poorly-Conceived Ideas
[Via Daring Fireball]

Claire Cain Miller, writing for the NYT:

Two of Color’s photo-sharing competitors, Instagram and PicPlz, exemplify the lean start-up ethos. They started with $500,000 and $350,000, respectively, and teams of just a few people. As they have introduced successful products and attracted users, they have slowly raised more money and hired engineers.

Color, meanwhile, spent $350,000 to buy the Web address color.com, and an additional $75,000 to buy colour.com. It rents a cavernous office in downtown Palo Alto, where 38 employees work in a space with room for 160, amid beanbag chairs, tents for napping and a hand-built half-pipe skateboard ramp.

The difference between Instagram/PicPlz and Color isn’t just how much money they needed to get going. It’s that Instagram and PicPlz are easily understood, clearly appealing concepts. It’s easy to see what they do, and why one might want to use them. Color is just a mess. That they raised a ludicrous sum of money proves only that fools and their money are soon parted.


A 20th Century company gets lots of venture capital, hires lots of people and creates, usually by committee, its vision tof a product, hoping that the market place will like it. It has little clue whether its vision is appropriate or even useful. They spend months if not years working to reach their vision, costing investors millions. Their vision must be almost complete before the world sees it, right or wrong. Their development cycle is too long for any other course to really work.

A 21st Century bootstraps itself with just a few people who have internalized their vision and who work to get a working prototype of that vision out, and then work to adapt that product to what the market wants/needs. They spend weeks but never more than months to create and market its vision. Then, based on feedback from the marketplace, they recreate their rapid development cycle to move closer to perfection.

Color has raised $41 millon for a product no one really seems to like. They have grand visions but their first attempt is simply not making it in the marketplace. How in the world can they ever recoup that $41 million?

Instagram started with $500,000 and got its vision in the marketplace quickly. It had over 1 million users in just 10 weeks. There are now over 3.75 million. Millions of people who would be ready to download updates or  the next new thing. They plan to monetize by providing fun add-ons but are also looking to the community they are creating.

The numbers are probably much larger now but think about how the investors might easily get back 10 times what they invested versus Color and their investors.

Instagram, due to the lean structure a 21st Century company can attain and to the rapid development cycle it can use, is the clear winner here. By the time Color has finally come out with something that others might use, Instagram will have adapted and be onto the next new vision.

Be innovative. Nurture a thought catalyst.

curbby fizhbowl

Are you a thought catalyst? (And what to do about it.)
[Via Creativity Central]

A few years ago, Kevin Murnane, Adjunct Professor and lecturer at Northwestern University and a good and thoughtful friend — sent me article with the provocative title of Thought Catalysts: Prima Donnas or Prime Movers.

Written by Cathy Higgins and Dave Kreischer in their excellent “The Straight Talk Coach” Series, it deftly explores the personality of the Thought Catalyst — an individual who can add creative fuel to an organization while burning everyone else out.

So here’s your personality test:

Are you a creative thinker who advocates unique solutions to every problem?

Do you thrive on competitive brainstorming?

Are you frequently frustrated by others’ resistance to your ideas?

Do you excel at clarifying strategic options?

Is being distinctive one of your most prized attributes?

Have you found it difficult t fit the mold at most places you have worked?

If you answered yes to at least four of the above questions, you are probably a thought catalyst.  I got an A+.


The article is available online. In many ways the thought catalyst fits what I call a disruptor. They love bringing in new ideas to a community, often disrupting the ability of the majority to get work done.

And the way most companies are organized, the role of the disruptor is frustrating to both sides. No one listens to the thought catalyst.

A 21st century organization, on the other hand, knows how to harness disruptors so that their catalytic thoughts can propel the organization forward.

Because that is where real innovation often comes from – properly using those with catalytic ideas and perspectives.

Most organizations simply toss the thought leaders to the curb because of their disruptions.

Why adaptation is just a critical as innovation

adaptby szeke

Why Apple blinked
[Via Brainstorm Tech: Technology blogs, news and analysis from Fortune Magazine » Apple 2.0]

An analyst offers three reasons Apple relaxed its rules for App Store subscriptions

Scott Forestall demoing iOS 5’s Newsstand. Source: Apple Inc.

RBC’s Mike Abramsky was the first analyst out of the gate Friday to comment on Apple’s (AAPL) decision to make it easier for publishers and other content partners to offer in-app subscriptions.


This is not a case of blinking. It is not a game of chicken when a 21st century company is involved.

Companies of the industrial age play a zero sum game. Companies of the 21st play a win-win scenario.

Apple presented a policy that it felt was fair and beneficial to its customers. Which it was.

But the policy also hampered the collaborators that Apple depended on to make the subscription policy work, and to increase the reach of the App store.

Apple usually puts it customers first, something quite unusual these days, but does recognize more and more the importance of its collaborators.

Here, it listened to its collaborators and found a way to adapt its policy to create a win-win for everyone.

Too many analysts still try and describe Apple as if it was a company of the last century. They fail to see the real shape of the future here.

Apple strives to find the sweet spots of win-win. 21st Century companies adapt to create non-zero sum results.

You can also see this with their general business approach. All other hardware manufacturers play zero sum games – they have to gain market share and can only do that by taking it away from someone else. Profits seem to disappear in this setting though.

Apple plays a non-zero sum game – they are happy to have a falling part of a growing market, as long as they keep getting more profits.

Thus, Apple may only have a very small percentage of the cell phone market (4%) but they hold the majority of all the profits.

Which is more sustainable in the end? That is what a 21st century company can accomplish.

The flexibility of Apple

O’Brien: Apple’s path to the app store wasn’t a straight road – San Jose Mercury News
[Via MercuryNews.com]

The unveiling of the iPhone almost four years ago stands as a pivotal moment in computing history. The elegant design not only ushered in the mobile computing revolution, it also ignited an entire billion-dollar business based on mobile apps.

And, it is widely believed, this was all part of a master plan designed by Steve Jobs and Apple (AAPL).

But in a recent conversation with former Apple insider Bob Borchers, a very different picture emerged, one that hasn’t been reported until now. What he told me is that the mobile app ecosystem developed far differently from what Apple originally envisioned.

And it happened because Apple did two things: It listened to users. And it adapted.


An important aspect of 21st Century is adaptation – they do not get it right the first time. Apple did not have a grand plan in mind. It was just trying to create the best, most stable smartphone it could.

But, because of the iPhone’s cutting edge nature, it allowed the possibility of outside change. Originally, Apple did not envision the app store.

It listened though and adapted. And in doing so, created an ecosystem much more powerful than just the iPhone itself.

The success of the App Store, though, was dependent on Apple having so many of the pieces already in place – iOS was based on OS X, meaning that  a large number of developers could jump on the new system rapidly; iTunes already had the infrastructure to support all the needs of an App store; the hardware of the iPhone could support so much more than web apps.

The success of the App store helped lead to the success of the iPad – Apple made sure that it could run not only iPhone apps but its own.

Apple would not be in the position today if it had clamped down on the development of apps for the iPhone.