Platformit — Part One: Look Back, Around, Within and Beyond

Khalid Al Madani
Sep 4, 2018 · 12 min read

I was enjoying a meal with my friends when the buzzword “platform” kicked itself into our discussion. Suddenly, our debate resembled the parable of the blind men describing an elephant. Purposefully, I added another layer of confusion by introducing the phrase “platform thinking.” Then I retreated from the heated debatable conversation to reload my revolver. “Hold, hold, hold” was the only voice I was hearing in my head, waiting to fire at their platform’s conventional wisdom. When the right moment arose, I unleashed my “FANG” revolver to hit them with my platform’s silver bullets.

Apparently, they were wearing bulletproof vests, and they fired back like a Fortnite’s squad team by saying, “We dare you to explain platform thinking without using FANG and the rest of the gang.”

Knowing this squad for decades, I can assure you that they were not challenging my knowledge in the platform’s domain; they were challenging the authenticity behind the knowledge. And with pleasure, I accepted their challenge. In fact, their challenge inspired this writing.

This post will be one of many. Collectively, the posts will stand as a white paper but with a storytelling approach. Together, we will be touching the same part of the elephant’s body.

But why am I using a storytelling approach? It has to do with my personal struggle in this domain. So, I decided to translate what I am learning from interacting with specialists, attending workshops, reading books and articles, etc. into a joyful, easy-to-follow narrative.

My countless interaction with wannabe startups and entrepreneurs (especially the less experienced ones) can magnify two bumps at the beginning of their journeys: they always complain of the lack of good ideas and the complexity of platform concepts.

I sincerely need you to join me this journey, to fight back the squad team. Our combat mission will revolve over:

1) Explaining “platform thinking” without piggybacking on the FANG and the rest of the gang. We might refer to some of them as ancillary examples to clarify the core point.

2) Helping you to overcome the notional bump (i.e., lack of ideas) by introducing a mental framework that can help you to generate a new platform idea from scratch.

3) Making the platform concepts and platform thinking digestible for the wannabe startups & entrepreneurs, especially the young, energetic and enthusiastic.

Before we start this journey, I would like to introduce you to my version of platform definition.

A Platform is an “economic architecture” that governs the:

- Aggregation and matching of the RIGHT supply and demand (i.e., governing interaction enablement)

- Gravitation and mobilization of the RIGHT resources (i.e., governing interaction enrichment)

- Creation, curation and consumption of the RIGHT values (i.e., governing interaction facilitation)

- Assignment and enforcement of the RIGHT authority and responsibility (i.e., governing the rules of engagement)


Look back, around, within and beyond

Unfortunately, we have been designed to think linearly in a stagnant fashion. I guess you know by whom? Exactly, our schools. Our thinking is often contained within the boundaries of our educational level and the accompanying curriculum (i.e., first grade students are expected to think within the parameter of a first grade curriculum).

Such stagnant, linear thinking yields stagnant, linear ideas — i.e., ideas that only incrementally enhance things. Such ideas tend to be slow in progress and outdated. The moment you gave birth to your linearly generated unicorn idea, all that you have to do is to google it and a version of it will already exist. This is what is behind the notional thinking that all good ideas are taken.

Thanks to our educational system, our immune system is on auto-pilot mode to fight any attempts to depart from this way of thinking, backed by a false belief that innovative ideas only come from academically elite minds. “So, do you think you are Einstein?” is what you will sarcastically hear if you decide to think differently.

So how we can bail out our thinking? By not being embarrassed about what is in our minds. Bring it out, share it with others; the majority will laugh at you… a lot. I have a very close friend, a true friend, yet he was laughing at my ideas for a decade, idea after idea, day after day. You might ask, what kept me sharing my ideas with him for so long? To answer this question, please pay a considerable attention to the following: no single idea was great at its infancy.”

I see my ideas, not as my brain’s final and finest products. An idea is a magnificent learning opportunity that might take me to another product or discovery. The moment you realize that your idea is just the beginning of a learning journey you will not be offended by people reactions. So, allow your brain to give birth to ideas (tons of ideas), then nurture and iterate them at their infancy, till you raise an innovative idea. Yes, you can’t find an innovative idea; you raise up an idea until it becomes innovative. “Innovative Idea” is an ecosystem of your history, experience, expertise, and inspiration.

But, how can we give birth to ideas? Be yourself. I know it sounds cheesy, but I am serious. The intellectual YOU, is a universe of events, incident, interactions, etc.; some of them are related, others are isolated, some are sequential, and others are disordered. We have a treasure chest within each of us, but we lost it’s key. Fortunately, I managed to get some raw material from Asgard, to assemble a framework that might help you in unlocking your universe, the looking back, around, within and beyond framework.

Looking involves the following:

- Looking back, revisiting your past and reexamining your history.

- Looking around, comparing yourself to your peers, like-minded people, as well as other diverse people, to understand such rich experiences.

- Looking within, having a more profound realization of your current reality and circumstances towards amplifying your expertise.

- Looking beyond, viewing the horizon, with an open mind and aspiration to learn and evolve, (i.e., allowing the future to inspire your imagination.)

So, let us explore how we can generate an idea and try to platform it. I will start by looking back. Buckle up; it will be a bumpy journey.

Important note: When looking back, you need to be specific so that you can focus on what is essential. Select a particular domain (i.e., your social life, your educational experience, your professional life, etc.) then identify a time frame so that your memory can extract the most significant lessons.

I will start by digging into my professional life by going back 15 years. Applying a bird’s eyes view, I can spot two important things. First, I moved from the regulatory body to the private sector (i.e., moving from a central bank to a bank). Second, my transition took place in the heart of the global financial crisis. You can say that I was fortunate to see both sides of the coin during the toughest time.

While writing this post, I am shocked to realize that it has been almost ten years since the most horrific earthquake hit the global economy. We all know that the center of this terrible earthquake was the banking industry. Back then, the phrase “financial crisis” became the mainstream; however, deep inside me, I was viewing it as a tough “financial correction.”

I witnessed how the casualties emerged from the devastating ripples of this financial earthquake with a varying degree of rehabilitation. The regulators were the fastest to stand on their feet and to take the heavy lifting. Their collective initiatives prevented a financial Armageddon that was encapsulating nuclear economic destruction. Yet, I believe that regulators must move from the threat-based narrative to the opportunity-based narrative.

The investors suffered a fair share of wealth destruction. Yet, they emerged from the crisis stronger, wiser and more resilient. They became more vigilant with their financial affairs, empowered with governance awareness, and stronger alignment between expected returns and implied risks. Yet, they demand a greater say with regards to investment decision making.

Unfortunately, the Investment Banking industry (where I spent the last ten years) are still undergoing a range of unresolved legacy issues that impede them from generating meaningful or sustainable wealth maximization. As such they lost their investors’ confidence in their business model.

Now, let’s enrich our idea generation process by looking into the future (i.e., the beyond dimension). It is undebatable that banks who will not be capable of harnessing intellectual property, accommodate and cope with the technological development (Blockchain, Crypto Assets, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Robotic Advisors, Machine Learning, Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, etc.), will find themselves out of the equation, very soon.

Now let’s look “Around.” The banking industry is facing new enemies. Silicon Valley is moving from merely being technological service providers for Wall Street to be a market maker within Wall Street. As Jamie Dimon said, They see a gap, and they want to fill it.

Alibaba along with other China’s major technology companies such as Tencent, Sina Weibo, and Baidu all are launching competing products known as online investment platforms in partnership with China’s largest mutual-fund companies, as per their long-term plans. Has anyone wondered what their long-term plans are?

For an average person, looking at Amazon’s recent initiatives might reflect a classic definition of economies of scope, a differentiation strategy that diversifies the production lines towards corporate expansion. But for experienced Bankers, the below image stands as one of Hollywood’s scariest horror movie. The below illustration is an intersection between two powerful business theories (i.e., Disruptive Innovation and Blue Ocean).

It seems that Amazon is building its own bank. On the surface it seems that they are merely surrounding their core businesses with a light touch of financial services. But what if they are experimenting the next-generation of Banking.

They are stretching their financial muscles across core financial pillars starting from payments infrastructure and network, cash services, consumer lending and SME lending, Insurance, checking accounts as well as several investment initiatives in the fintech area.

Let’s stop here and recap the above. We applied the “look back, around, and beyond” framework to seed an idea. (Note: On purpose, I kept the look within dimension out of the scope of this post.)

The below image summarizes the finding of the look framework, which helped us in identifying a focal point. The seed of an idea “investments.”

Next, we need a simple diagnostic tool to germinate the seed within the platform forest. And here I would like to introduce you to a simple tool that I call the Platform Eligibility Test.

Let’s explore the left-hand side first. Amazon can extend a hand here, to help us better understand this tool.

Imagine yourself being Jeff Bezos in 1995, and you want to sell books, online. You can use this tool by asking yourself the below simple questions:

1) Can the product (i.e., books) be digitized?

2) Can the making of the product be digitized?

3) Can it be communicated digitally to end users?

4) Can it be purchased digitally?

5) Can it be delivered digitally?

6) Can it be consumed (i.e., can it be read) digitally?

The more yeses you get, the higher the chances that your idea can enter the platform universe.

Now let’s move to questions 7 to 10. Can your idea be subject to the eliminate, raise, reduce and create forces (i.e., ERRC Grid)?

7) If you platformize the idea, can it raise or create new supply?

8) If you platformize the idea, can it raise or create demands?

9) If you platformize the idea, can it eliminate or reduce dependency on third-party gatekeepers?

10) If you platformize the idea, can it change the infrastructure of the value chain?

For example, regarding question (7), in 1995, Jeff Bezos was not going to amplify the supply of books by going online (i.e., he was merely creating a fancy yellow page for books with some ease concerning storage, purchase, and delivery). (8) At the same time, he was not tapping into a new customer segment (i.e., the same people who used to buy books from the library, found it easier to buy them online). (9) And he was not able to eliminate gatekeepers (e.g., publishers). (10) Furthermore, in 1995, Bezos was not able to radically change the value chain.

Now let us travel in time to 2007. You are still Jeff, but the technological landscape changed a bit. Let’s see what changed:

1) A book can be digitized.

2) The making process of a book can be digitized.

3) A book can digitally and innovatively be communicated to end users.

4) A book can be purchased digitally, via the one-click approach.

5) A book can be delivered digitally.

6) A book can be consumed (i.e., read) digitally.

By 2007, (7) anyone can write a book. (8) Anyone can purchase a book from anywhere. (9) You can publish your book via Kindle Direct Publishing” (i.e., no intermediary). (10) The entire value chain has been revamped. Amazon brought an entire industry to its knees.

If your idea can pass the ten questions successfully, you need to understand that you are sitting on a gold mine. Your idea will no longer gravitate to the economic rules of the industrial age. You will be eligible to enter the exponential era. In such a case, I suggest that you stop reading this post and instead contact me to do business.

Let’s stop dreaming and go back to our example. Our focal point is investments, so let us stress test it with our Platform Eligibility Test.

1- Can the Investment Opportunity be digitized?

2- Can the procedures of making such Investment Opportunity be digitized?

My short answer to questions 1 & 2 is, yes. But for now, we will assume they cannot be digitized.

3- Can the Investment Opportunity be communicated digitally to investors? Yes.

4- Can the Investment Opportunity be purchased (i.e., placed/subscribed) digitally? Yes.

5- Can the Investment Opportunity be delivered digitally? Yes.

6- Can the Investment Opportunity be consumed digitally? No.

To keep things under control, we will assume question number 6 cannot be digitized.

It suffices to say that questions 7 to 10 are all successfully qualifies to platform thinking and that we will be discussing them in greater details in future posts.

The above extract of the Platform Eligibility Test is a simplified version of the Business Model Canvas (“BMC”). Items 3, 4, and 5 will be the building block of this white paper. Item 5 is equivalent to the “Channel” building block on the BMC, and it will be our starting point in the upcoming post.

While reading the below, imagine me talking to you with an Italian mobster accent, while gazing at your eyes.

Converting an idea into a platform is not about sugarcoating it with advanced technology and artistic app designs. This is just a surface-level understanding, which usually has a direct correlation with poor platform architecture, and ultimately leads to business failure. The path from idea to platform must undergo the deep valley of “platform thinking.” This is why I started this post by defining what a platform is. Platform thinking is all about the governance and architecture that can reinvent and sustain a value chain.

In the coming posts, we will unveil the secrets of the platform’s universe. However, for now, look at the right-hand side of the Platform Eligibility Test. At this stage, I want you to have a mental representation of converting an idea into a possible platform.

See you at our second destination. Part II. Until then you can burn a few calories by showing me a few claps. Do it.

You are most welcome to connect via https://twitter.com/KhalidiAlmadani or https://www.linkedin.com/in/khalid-al-madani-2009a1160/

Khalid Al Madani

Written by

Passionate about Platforms. Founder of PlatformIT Consulting W.L.L.

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