Pluggable products.. competing by collaborating.

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A while back, I wrote about competition and collaboration being tied to each other in today’s market place. That was directed towards organizations collaborating with right partners and competing in the space. Recently, I’ve been looking at a similar trend in software products. Its very difficult to separate collaboration and competition. In fact, as ironic as it seems, collaboration has become an essential requirement in today’s competitive environment.

We need applications that integrate seamlessly with other web services like twitter, facebook, flickr, etc. A standalone application is just not good enough.

We need applications that expose themselves through apis, so we could build plugins over them. Few years back, it would have sounded totally absurred to have applications which expose themselves to the outer world.

Think about it this way. You have a product. Of course you’d like people to use it. That’s the reason why you have a product at the first place. Now think about what would make it more interesting for your users.. More features. Well.. not necessarily extra features, but some improvements on the existing product. As a single provider, it’d take you enormous cost and time to try and deliver all by yourself alone. You’d need an additional hand. Expose apis and allow people to lend you that hand.

Its almost like outsourcing some of your development to external developers for no cost. You don’t just get some of your features done, but you also get another perspective on your product, which in certain cases can really change your product itself.

There are certain products like Mozilla Firefox and few other who have created a certain sticky-ness just because of their plugins. Lot of people don’t migrate to other browsers just because they don’t have the plugins that they’re used to in firefox. There are also products that are adding all sorts of new integrations to lure their users. Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, iPhone, Android, and the list goes on..

Ok. So the message is.. if you’re building a product, think about pluggable architecture right from the initial phases instead of building it later.

Sometimes Strength is their greatest weakness..

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Its odd, but true. Really. Many companies suffer because they did not evolve their business models at the right time.

We’ve heard of companies that fail very early on, in the startup phase, because of lack of a strong business model primarily. But, in current day and age, it is not enough if you’ve made through that phase. In the face of competition, first mover advantage is restricted to very few domains. Certainly not software.

Its essential that company evolves its business model, considering the state of economy, political structure and basically the environment. Many companies make the perennial mistake of sticking to their assumed strength for too long. Yes, I don’t mean to say that one should not value their core value proposition, I’m saying that one needs to continuously keep evolving it.

It’s about continuing to innovate in every means possible, and building that innovation around your core abilities.

When companies get bigger, they tend to be more focussed on their core abilities, simply because it is difficult for them to innovate and grow at the same time. Hence we see a trend that most innovation come from smaller players, who have little to lose and are willing to go that extra mile to build something that breaks the predefined rules. And naturally, bigger companies are found wanting.. playing the catch up game in the competition.

Recently, there has been lot of movement in this space. Many companies have tried to redefine themselves. Companies that have always been very traditional about their business models are getting out there and trying newer things. It is for the benefit of everybody. Those who are not doing it, they better have a very good reason for not doing so.