I’m Creating A Platform For Platforms Of Platforms

I nominate “platform” for overused tech word of 2010.  Yeah, I whined about this a few months ago in my post Your Platform Is Not In My Space.

I hear the word “platform” in over 50% of the short pitches I get.  A friend of mine who is working on a new startup that isn’t even funded yet (and he’s grinding on the financing) described his goal of “creating a platform for a-phrase-that-only-73-early-adopters-will-userstand.)  Entrepreneurs everywhere describe the first release of their MVP (“minimum viable product” – for those of you that haven’t intersected with the Lean Startup movement) app as a “platform”.  The first three pages of a google search on “platform” are 33% tech, 33% politics, and 34% other.  At least Google image search is more accurate, for example:LEGO City 4210: Coast Guard Platform - View 4.jpeg

Ahem – give me a fucking break.  Yup – I get it – it’s great to be a platform.  I give you Facebook and Twitter as examples.  But real platforms are few and far between.  And creating “a platform” is not necessarily the right first move for your brand new consumer facing application.  Why don’t you start by being super useful to a bunch of consumers first.

I know I’ve been overusing the word “platform” lately – it’s like a weird brain infection that is hard to diagnose and then eliminate.  I’ve found it – now it’s time to remove it from my vocabulary.

  • http://www.ronen82.com Ronen Mendezitsky

    Are you certain that all those 50 pitchers actually believe they can build a platform, or is it just a nice buzz word for them to use to make their idea sound bigger than it really is?

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      It’s a good observation – probably a solid mix of the two. Of course,
      neither is helpful to the entrepreneur!

      • http://www.ronen82.com Ronen Mendezitsky

        I think it’s natural that if meeting entrepreneurs is your job, you must see the same thing, not talking about an idea, but a presentation, over and over again, you just have to be patient I suppose and let them carry on.

  • Anonymous

    Platform beds are generally used by one or two people (three if you’re freaky and lucky.) So if you make a platform bed you don’t need to be useful for a lot of people. Put that it your pipe and smoke it.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I wish I understood what this meant!

  • http://www.geekatsea.com Kirill Zubovsky

    Good point and thank you for the reminder. (time to adjust the pitch)
    Perhaps for some (and me), platform is an easy way to describe a place where a certain segment of users comes to find product/service they desire. However, that’s not really what platform is, is it.
    Point taken.

  • http://twitter.com/annejohn Anne Johnson

    Platform is another of these words that comes around again. I spent far too much time in network management software product requirement meetings with people who would rather debate whether they were building a ‘platform’ or a ‘framework’ than make actual forward progress.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t speak for the people you have seen pitching, but I think a lot of this is based on what we continually hear from VCs – the market has to be enormous. Most consumer web ideas aren’t platforms but in order to sell it to a venture capitalist it has to have that potential. An app or a niche service just doesn’t seem to fit the model. But that certainly doesn’t give license to overuse the word.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yeah, I’m sure the corresponding VC-speak doesn’t help the situation.
      At the very earliest stages, however, this is mostly an excuse from a
      VC to say “I’m not interested.”

  • Jal

    A-Fucking-men.

    There are a handful companies that have started out with a stated goal of building a platform, did it, and are still around. Microsoft, Apple and Oracle are some of them. The other platforms we have didn’t start with that goal. They built products people needed, or at least liked, and became platforms.

    Pikers looking for cash, on the other hand, like to talk about building platforms.

    Sorry, my holiday cheer hasn’t kicked in yet.

  • http://kcbigring.tumblr.com/ kevin cawley

    before you build your dominating platform… you must PIVOT and PIVOT several times really fast

    PIVOT is right up there for the most annoying & abused term of 2010

  • http://twitter.com/freds4hb freds4hb

    So then, no platform shoes Brad?

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      My partner Seth (@sether) has some platform shoes.

  • http://20andengaged.com Briana Myricks

    All the cool words get abused. It’d be nice if entrepreneurs would open up a thesaurus once in a while.

  • http://www.mac-live.com Shane Mac

    Haha, you mean -> http://itsthisforthat.com/

  • http://twitter.com/raj raj

    I tell people all the time that products need to have standalone value before becoming worthwhile as a platform. Building a developer ecosystem is useless unless people want the product to solve a problem on its own.

    The iPhone is a great example of this. It solved a basic problem before becoming a huge hit as a platform. Now the surrounding developer ecosystem plays a large role in selling the core platform.

    What I really think this relates to is drag. Big platforms drag usage of peripheral products, but they usually don’t have enough critical mass early on to drag enough meaningful usage.

    So yeah, focus on making something useful.

  • http://sunsetreflector.wordpress.com/ SS

    Good article. The word “platform” has been made stale by these geeks by the dozen and the journeymen who rallied around them, like last week’s milk.

  • http://sunsetreflector.wordpress.com/ SS

    Articles like this make me seriously recall my dream of becoming a language conservationist.

  • http://filtrbox.com/blog arinewman

    Another good one Brad. Love Kevin’s PIVOT comment too – Let us know when someone in your office says “We are PIVOTING to become a major PLATFORM for xyz” That’s got to be worth something… ;-)

  • Brandon

    The cloud is the platform in the social web 2.0 space … network … inflection … tipping … threw up a little in my mouth … WTF … FTW … Argh!!!!

  • Csmith

    I agree 100%. I’ve been thinking this year about how businesses twist themselves into pretzels to look good for VCs, instead of just building businesses the old fashioned way – by attracting customers. Unfortunately, the former approach seems to reap great rewards for founders when there’s percieved value but no intrinsic value Selling paper still seems to be more lucrative than building real businesses. Until that changes, and we reward authentic value, you’ll continue to hear those pitches.

  • https://www.google.com/profiles/andrewranwong Andrew Ran Wong

    Can’t really blame the entrepreneurs since most of them starting a startup are thinking about “changing the world.” Creating a platform will help them. Also the fact that Google founders and Facebook founder keep using that word in public can serve as an inspiration as well. Just my 2 cents. Really enjoyed “Do More Faster.” Will be a regular on your blog.

  • Maig1984

    Good point. A great “platform” to commence change and adaptation in my pitches. :)

  • Anonymous

    I think the platform you posted the picture of is probably the most engaging one. Someone should do a startup that creates a platform for playing with Lego platforms on the Facebook platform. That would be sweet.

  • http://twitter.com/nielr1 Niel Robertson

    Couldn’t agree more – you can’t just build it an they will come. You have to build the platform and the app first, get critical mass, then leverage the platform out in a very strategic way first by building other apps yourself then letting the community extend for you. Reminds me of a long piece i wrote about this:

    http://parallax.blogs.com/parallax_calculating_tech/2006/02/the_increasing_.html

    Salesforce is the classic case study in this with AppExchange on the b2b side, twitter/FS etc.. on the consumer side.

  • http://nobulb.com Michael Greenberg

    I agree that “platform” is ambiguous, but what would you suggest as a better description when pitching these ideas to laymen? What would you call Marginize? or BigDoor’s MiniBar?

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Both Marginize and the MiniBar are applications. BigDoor aspires to
      create a “game mechanic platform” but they’ve got a long way to go –
      today I’d describe it as “game mechanic infrastructure.”