For more than a decade I have been railing against Unicorns, while concurrently coining the notion of Workhorse or Zebra startup mentalities. My passion for reimagining the approach that innovators and inventors take to building their business propositions is matched by my zeal for an equally aggressive repositioning at the other end of the enterprise scale.

Too many large enterprises (I’ve worked at a few) operate much as an aircraft carrier [if you’ve heard me speak on the topic, you know this analogy of mine all too well!]. They are slow to respond, costly to maintain, and require astonishing lead-times in order to effect any sort of course correction. I have long held that modern businesses need to model their operational efficiency on a “Jetski” principle: nimble, reactive, fast, and able to jump over any unexpected wave running counter to its objective. While one of the most telling characteristics of the lumbering giant enterprise is its slow response time, these sorts of megacompanies have mitigated that weakness by establishing, as best they could, de facto monopolies or regional agreements with competitors, so as to ensure themselves the lead-time necessary to implement unavoidable changes. That worked while technology and society moved at something close to the same pace as these brands. One of the most important aspects of jetski companies (as I have called them, for a while), is that – while they may not have the resources to individually manage the same volume of customers or clients as the aircraft carriers, they are able to adapt much more efficiently and effectively to sea changes.

Residential ISPs have been operating under a massively flawed business model for years now, and seem to have no interest in changing said model. AT&T, Spectrum (formerly Charter and Time-Warner), and others believe that customer churn is an acceptable cost of doing business.

So long as they can successfully seduce an equal or greater volume of new customers each month, to offset loss of customers due to their shady price hikes (or keep a sufficient volume of customers who are too lazy or ignorant to contest the price hikes), these near monopolies are happy.

Any intelligent market analyst will note, though, that inevitably accelerating changes in technology always disrupt long-established yet unchanging business models. These large behemoths are lumbering along as if their revenue streams are secure.

As 5G continues its maturation and deployment, and initiatives such as Loon point the way to yet more compelling alternatives, customers repeatedly abused by current ISP giants will be eager to explore emerging options.

In the face of these disruptions, no amount of retroactive price cuts will restore customer faith in the big brands that for so long exploited their market dominance.

No matter how faithful these brands may have been to their shareholders, if customer volume drops, so will the share price.

The painfully obvious lesson here being that in an age of accelerating technological and social disruption, the relationship a product or service brand has with its customers is the most important relationship to establish, manage, and honor.

This doesn’t mean brands should become enslaved by the vicissitudes of mercurial and sometimes manipulative shoppers: “two wrongs don’t make a right”, as our parents often said!

It does mean that transactional relationships need to be more equitable, manageable, and transparent. ISPs and other businesses incapable of upgrading their methodologies and practices will be disconnected, beached…insert analogy or metaphor of choice.

 

Microsoft just announced a chat-based enterprise collaboration tool. It’s called Microsoft Teams, and the implications are deeper than one might imagine, at first blush. Whether those implications realize themselves or not depends (of course) on how enthusiastically the market embraces this SaaS.

One’s first assumption might be that Microsoft Teams is a “Slack killer”, and this might certainly be the case, if Microsoft were to have a fantastic track record of imaginative and impactful marketing. It does not. It’s unlikely that Microsoft Teams will have much initial impact on Slack user numbers, given the fierce loyalty of Slack users to the brand. The same applies (to lesser extents) to Basecamp, Smartsheet, Asana, Podio, Trello, Samepage, Quip, Projectplace, Yalla, and, and, and…

Each of these collaboration platforms provides an experience with which its users are – for the most part – quite comfortable. You don’t often see an Evernote user of longstanding jump over to OneNote, or vice versa.

So what’s the big deal with Microsoft Teams? There are two big deals, in fact.

First, if the solution is well-thought and intuitive, and if it integrates with Office 365 in as fluid and seamless a fashion as intended, it will secure those enterprise users of the Office Suite, and prevent their adoption of the other aforementioned “standalone” collaboration toolsets. Microsoft will be strengthening its enterprise software ecosystem, not by preventing escape, but by making the notion of staying more attractive. More of a golden cage, than a walled garden.

The second implication, however, is more dramatic: Microsoft was almost going to acquire Slack earlier this year – a move I did not quite understand, given both the $8 Billion price tag and Microsoft’s existing holdings of SharePoint, Yammer, and Skype, to mention just a few. Opting to withdraw from the purchase has made a silent statement that will, I believe, reverberate through the already flawed VC world. For the past years, convention and hubris have driven the notion that companies will purchase and absorb promising or threatening products and solutions, as a matter of course and self-preservation. On balance, this has not proven as cost-effective or innovative as many have pretended. Whether intentionally or not, Microsoft, by opting to pursue internal development and release of their own Swiss Army collaboration tool, has communicated that their IP, combined with internal dev talent, are sufficiently robust to offer solutions that do not require Slack.

Admittedly, this remains a risk. Slack users tend to comprise small businesses that “graduate” toward Google suites of product offerings, rather than the traditionally heftier Microsoft suites. However, the Microsoft brand (somewhat inadvertently, I feel) has been ceding its Goliath mantle to Apple and Google, of late, and many small businesses with which I work are less intimidated by the brand than they once were.

If Microsoft manages to position their Teams offering properly, this could be the moment when all the vaporware startups out there realize they are standing in the street naked, and need to actually develop something unique and truly valuable (read: unrealizable by others without great investment), or risk being eclipsed by developers who have finally wised up to the fact that a snappy presentation does not a mighty valuation make, even if it’s in PowerPoint.