Category Archives: Differentiation

The secret to Apple’s success?

If there’s one company that is the envy of the high-tech community these days, it’s Apple.  Steve Jobs is hailed as a genius CEO and lauded for a string of hit products. Apple’s market capitalization is over $200 BILLION dollars currently, easily ranking it in the top 10 companies in the world by market cap, and just shy of Microsoft for biggest technology company.

Everyone wants to understand the secrets of Apple’s success and hopefully emulate them. The reasons given by people for Apple’s success are many. The following are a few of the arguments made:

1. Vertical integration – Apple owns most of, if not the entire, technology stack for its key products,  and thus gives it advantages over other less vertically integrated products.

NOTE: “Vertical integration” used to be called “being proprietary” and was given as the reason for Apple’s relative lack of success against Microsoft in the OS/PC battles of the 80s and 9os. But phenomenal success has a way of changing people’s minds.

2. Making markets vs.  addressing markets – Some claim that Apple doesn’t ask people what they need but gives them products they decide they want.

Does anyone NEED an iPhone or iPad? Not really, but a lot of people seem to want them.

3. The Cool Factor – Let’s face it, Apple does make “cool” products. Attention to design and detail – fit and finish as they say – really distinguishes Apple’s products from competitors.

4. Entering markets after they’ve developed — Contrary to #2 above, some people claim that Apple doesn’t make markets but enters existing markets once they’re growing and takes  advantage of latent demand.

The iPod was not the first digital music player and the iPhone was not the first smart phone, and the iPad is not the first portable computing device. In the case of the iPad, products like the Kindle and Netbooks actually paved the way for the market to accept  small computing devices, and Apple’s iPad is riding that wave.

5. Differentiated business models – whether it was iPod+iTunes or the iPhone+App Store, Apple innovates not just on technology, but on the business model. This makes it difficult for competitors to play catch up, let alone overtake Apple once it establishes itself in a dominant position.

6. People care about the experience not technology — Apple has always been about the user experience, but for a long time, the majority of the market didn’t care about that.

The majority of desktop computer users cared about “techs and specs”.  Now the tables have turned, and the majority don’t care about the specs, they care about the experience. The iPod, with it’s “1000 songs in your pocket” motto and iTunes which radically simplified purchasing music latched onto the experience wave, and Apple has been riding it ever since.

7. Simple product offerings – Apple has a very clear and simple set of products. It’s easy to understand the differences between their products, product families and the various configurations. This makes it easy to buy an Apple product if you want to.

A lot of companies complicate things unnecessarily. How many iPhone models are there? How many Blackberry models are there? How many Nokia smart phone models are there? See the difference between Apple, RIM and Nokia?

The same is true for the iMAc, the iPod and the iPad. Granted, there are actually a number of iPod models (Nano, Shuffle, Touch etc.) but they are very distinct amongst themselves. This can’t be said for digital music players from other companies.

I’m sure there are other reasons for Apple’s success, but it’s interesting to see how much debate is happening today on this topic. What it says to me is that there is no single reason for their success. And keep in mind that Apple has had failures as well.  Notice Apple doesn’t talk much about Apple TV. And remember the G4 Cube? The 20th Anniversary Mac?  Even the ultracool MacBook Air has had far from stellar success.

So, what do you think are the reasons for Apple’s incredible success over the last 10 years?

Saeed

Disruptive business model: Lew Cirne, serial entrepreneur on the future of Enterprise Software

Lewis Cirne (@sweetlew) believes that enterprise software needs to change, and his latest venture, New Relic, has blazed a path to do just that.

DOWNLOAD AND LISTEN to the interview with Lewis Cirne.

Lew’s first company, Wily Technology, was a classic garage-based tech startup (actually started in his living room in Santa Cruz) that grew from one person to 300+ people before being acquired by CA in 2006 for $375M. (Full disclosure: I worked for Wily as director of strategy from 2003 through the exit.)

After a year with CA and some time off to reflect, Lew started again, solving a similar business problem, but with a mission to hack out the massive cost of sales associated with most enterprise software.  Lew points his team to the craftsmanship of the iPhone, and the friction-free design of Facebook and Twitter as models for New Relic’s enterprise offering, and in fact his lead investor is Peter Fenton of Benchmark Capital who also led a huge round for Twitter in 2009.

New Relic is now 2 years old and has over 4,200 customers*. Lew tells us that this approach eliminates as much as 80% of the delivery costs, and takes months out of the innovation cycle. Is the model sustainable? What kind of exits are available to SaaS-based enterprise software companies? What does this model mean to the future of enterprise software?

Check out Lew’s answers in this episode of Take 5: our conversation on leadership, technology, and product management.

DOWNLOAD AND LISTEN to the full interview with Lewis Cirne.

* Errata: The audio uses the number of 40,000 websites; this was my error. Lew wrote me to clear this up: “We collect data on more than 40,000 JVM’s or Ruby Instances every minute, which does not correlate 1:1 with applications. (Many apps aggregate across multiple JVM’s or Ruby runtimes.) I use the 40,000 number to talk about the scale of the data we collect, rather than the size of our customer base. I don’t have up-to-date numbers on the number of actual apps we collect data on, but I would imagine that it’s over 5,000 since we have nearly 4200 production customers now and some of them have multiple apps (some have dozens in a single account). Anyway, just want to be sure we’re not over-representing ourselves.)”
Thanks Lew! Alan

The Power of Differentiation

Have you ever walked by a hot dog vendor on the street and wondered how they compete with other similar vendors?

If you haven’t, that’s understandable. If you have, you’re likely an overworked Product Manager.

Do they try to differentiate on price, location, variety of condiments, selection of drinks, cleanliness? Do you think they even think about differentiation?

They probably don’t think about it much unless a competitor co-locates very close to them.

Regardless, have you ever seen a hot dog vendor with line ups an hour long? Do you think major international media outlets would take turns interviewing one particular vendor in a major city?

Well, this is exactly what happened to one specific street vendor during the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The vendor is known as Japadog, and serves a unique variation on the frankfurter. Japadog can most simply be described as a Japanese take on hot dogs.

Most of the meat in the buns is either beef sausage or bratwurst, although they do offer fish sausage and promise a Kobe beef sausage  in the future.

Toppings include items such as seaweed, bonito flakes, mashed potatoes, cabbage, teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayo. Here’s the menu from one of their cart locations.

(click image to enlarge)

While this may sound strange to hot dog traditionalists, it’s incredibly popular with Vancouverites and visitors to the city.

The media attention received by Japadog, particularly during the recent Olympics, made it so popular that expansion plans to other cities are in the works.

The lesson here is simply a reminder of something we all know, but often forget. Differentiation is your friend. Find a unique way to position and offer your product to the market, particularly when the market is commoditized (as is the case with many hot dog vendors), and you create the opportunity to rise above those competitors and attract both market share and recognition.

Look at virtually any market leading product and you can usually clearly identify how it’s makers created compelling differentiation  from it’s competitors.

And for those of you who want to learn more about Japadog, here’s a short video.

Saeed