I believe the future of business and commitment building resides in the idea of viewing your business as a platform for your community.
The notion of a platform is one that receives a fair amount of play in various contexts.
An author is said to possess a platform when they have built a following. Consultants might work with a business owner to build a platform through speaking, writing, blogging and connecting in social media. And finally, many tech firms have built platforms by creating open source software, such as WordPress, that allows other 3rd party providers to build commerce and community on top of their framework.
Amazon sells lots of books, but in order to do that they needed to develop lots of file serving and storage capacity and get very, very good at delivering lightning quick web results in one of the highest traffic demand environments online.
Amazon took something that had little to do with their existing business, but which they had become incredibly proficient at, and created Amazon Web Services that allows thousands of business to build on the Amazon framework. I host and stream all of my product videos using Amazon S3 servers.
Airbnb is a community marketplace that allows property owners and travelers to connect with each other for the purpose of renting unique vacation spaces around the world. I use it frequently and love how simple the service is to use. Airbnb is built on Amazon Web Services and uses their database tools to build their community.
I would like to suggest that the notion of a platform is one that we can apply to almost any business.
What is a platform in this context?
A platform is a system that helps people create products, services, profits, businesses, communities, and networks of their own. The dynamics that must be present to create a platform environment are openness and collaboration.
So, the questions you need to ponder are:
- How could you or your business act as a platform?
- What could others build on top of your business or products?
- How could you add more value through your platform approach?
- How could you grow a network on your platform?
- Are there other businesses that your platform could launch?
- How could your community generate value for each other?
- How could your platform learn from community members?
- How could you create something open enough to attract your competitors?
- What platforms already exist that you could build on?
- Could you use your existing purpose, culture or community as a platform?
- What could you acquire as a way to build a platform?
- What could you extend as a way to build a platform?
When you start to think about your business in this manner you can move beyond the traditional applications of the term platform and blend platform type thinking into your business model, your culture and ultimately how you engage and communicate with your community.
Find your unique framework for openness
The key is to locate your unique framework as the foundation for the platform. Often times this requires thinking far outside of what your core business was designed to do and looking purely at things you can do, things you’ve gotten good at doing, even if they are simply things you do to support your core business.
AppleTree Answers is a call center business headquartered in Wilmington Delaware. The company has built a platform of sorts by figuring out how to change the paradigm of the call center culture. The company has received numerous awards for workplace excellence and is a frequent member of the Inc 500 and 5000.
AppleTree’s rapid growth then has come about by acquiring other small call centers and installing Appletree’s unique framework of openness. Appletree’s strong culture is the platform they’ve built all of their expansion on.
It’s all about building more value
A major dynamic of the platform component is value creation. No matter what your business does it will sink or swim based on the value (perceived or otherwise) it creates in someone’s life. This is extremely so when we talk about the community aspect of a platform.
Further, if you want to differentiate your business from others that are already providing value to a market, you’ve got to find a way to create more value as a competitive edge.
Many people default to adding features to products and services as a way to address value, but I think the real impact in value creation comes from strategically finding ways to add value in the way your business delivers a unique experience to its customer rather than through some sort of product enhancement.
The beauty of understanding value creation at the strategic level and then forcing that thinking into every tactical decision is that this is some of the most profitable work you can do. When a market comes to value what you have to offer as the “go to” choice you’re on your way to a premium pricing opportunity. People will pay dearly for an experience that helps them get more of what they want out of life.