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I’m mid 2011 I wrote a post titled Competition. Things in my universe had heated up and many of the companies I was an investor in were facing lots of competition. It’s 18 months later and there’s 10x the amount of competitive dynamics going on, some because of the maturity, scale, and market leadership of some of the companies I’m an investor in; some because of the increased number of companies in each market segment, and some based on the heat and intensity of our business right now.
I wrote a few more posts about competition but then drifted on to other things. But I came back to it this morning as I find myself thinking about competition every day. Yesterday, I was at the Silicon Flatirons Broadband Migration Conference hosted by my friend Phil Weiser. I go every year because it’s a good chance for me to see how several of the parallel universes I interact with, namely government, academics, broadband and mobile carriers, incumbent technology providers, and policy people think about innovation in the context of the Internet.
News flash – most of them think about it very differently than I do.
One thing that came up was the idea of creating the best product. This has been an on and off cliche in the tech business for a long time. For periods of time, people get obsessed about how “the best product will win.” Then, some strategy consultants, or larger incumbents, use their market power to try to create defenses around innovation, and suddenly the conversation shifts away from “build the best product.” And then the entrepreneurial cycle heats up again and the battle cry of the new entrepreneur is “build the best product.”
This isn’t just a startup vs. big company issue. I remember clearly, with amazement, the first time I got my hands on an iPhone. Up to that point I was using an HTC Dash running Windows Mobile 6.5. It was fine, but not awesome. I remember Steve Ballmer in a video mocking the iPhone.
We all know how this story has played out.
I remember a world when Microsoft and RIM were dominant. When Apple and Google didn’t have a product. And when people talked about “handsets”, WAP, and we squinted at our screens while pounding on keyboards that were too small for our fingers. Next time you are in a room full of people, just look around at the different phones, tables, and laptops that you see.
In my startup world, the same dynamics play out. Building the “best product” doesn’t only mean the best physical product (or digital product). It doesn’t just mean the best UI. Or the best UX. It includes the best distribution. The best supply chain. The best customer experience. The best support. The best partner channel. The best interface to a prospective customer. I’m sure I’ve left categories out – think about the idea of “the best complete product.”
This is getting more complicated by the day as technologies and products increase in interoperability with each other at both the data, network, application, and physical level. That’s part of the fun of it. And being great at it can help you dominate your competition.
Give me the best product to work with any day of the week. But make sure you are defining “product” correctly.
If you are looking to be in on the ground floor of a hot, new mobile startup based in Boulder, now is your chance.
We’ve funded a new company focused on the business conferencing / collaboration market that uses a unique mobile approach. Our co-investors including Google Ventures, SoftBank Capital, SoftTech, and a few prominent angels. The team is led by an experienced entrepreneur who I have worked with in the past and he’s built a dynamite founding team.
The company is looking to build its core development team here in Boulder. If you are a great mobile developer (iOS or Android) and want to help start and build a great company, email me and I will connect you to the team.
Mobile Monday Colorado is hosting a member of the TechStars mentor family, Dion Almaer, for their July 19th event. Dion is Managing Director of Developer Relations at Palm (now part of HP). Besides his involvement with TechStars as a mentor, he is a celebrity in the AJAX community as the co-founder of Ajaxian.com, and previously held senior positions within Mozilla and Google. Dion will be able to shed some light on how the largest consumer device company in the world will be integrating WebOS into various product lineups including tablets and intelligent printers. He will talk about the direction of the WebOS operating environment specifically and the future of mobile and the web. It is sure to be a solid event worth checking out.
I just finished up spending the past two days at Google I/O. On one of the panels I participated in yesterday (VCs Who Code), the endless discussion about open (e.g. Google) vs. closed (e.g. Apple) came up with Dave McClure stating “Open is for losers.” We had a short but spirited debate about a topic that could easily consume an entire panel before Dick Costolo (our moderator) quickly moved us on. Of course, we got bogged down again later in “native apps vs. web apps” question (which I think is irrelevant in the long run, and said so.)
When I woke up this morning I was still thinking about the open vs. closed thing. I’ve been using a Droid for a week (Google gave one to everyone that came to I/O) and I’ve been loving it. I’ve been an iPhone user for several years and while there are a bunch of things about it I love, there are several that I hate, including the pathetic AT&T service, major limitations in some of the applications such as email, the restriction of Flash, lack of tethering, lack of statefulness, lack of multi-processing, and the unbearable shittiness of iTunes for Windows. But, I never really considered an alternative until I started playing with Android 2.1 on a Droid on Verizon.
I’d basically decided to switch to the Droid. The keynote on Day 2 was split between Android 2.2 and Google TV. I was completely blown away by Android 2.2. It doesn’t merely address each of the issues I have with my iPhone, it demolishes them. Google wasn’t bashful during the keynote about taking shots at Apple, which was fun to see. And as I sat there, I kept thinking about how far Android has come taking an entirely open approach.
While Google “had me at Android 2.2”, they sealed the deal by giving every attendee a brand new HTC EVO 4G (running on Sprint). There have been plenty of complaints about Android handsets; the Droid was good although I
have had a Droid Incredible on order. But, now that I have my HTC EVO, I’m completely hooked. The physical device is magnificent, the Android implementation is awesome, and it is still only running Android 2.1 so it get even better when the over the air update is released and automatically upgrades.
I’m now in a position where I can dump my Verizon MiFi since can use my HTC phone as a hotspot. One less $60 / month bill, one less thing to schlep around. And I never have to use iTunes for Windows again. Apple just lost me – again.
The most amazing thing to me when I reflect on this is how much of a complete non-event Microsoft in this discussion. Before the iPhone, there was a different discussion and Windows Mobile (or whatever it was called) was regularly in the middle of it. Not only is it no longer in the middle, it’s no longer in the discussion. Google focused their sights directly on Apple and – with an open approach – is now in a position where it can legitimately threaten the iPhone’s long term position.
I love this stuff. Plus I now have two cool new phones.