The Biggest Reason Digital Platforms Succeed

I recently read the story of What3Words, a London-based startup, which has taken over the onerous task of giving a unique address to everyone in the world. You maybe surprised to know this, but as we rip open our newly arrived packages from Amazon, there are billions of people in the world who live in poorly marked addresses, or in worst cases, no address at all. To solve this, Chris Sheldrick, the founder, has divided planet earth into a grid of 3x3 metre tiny squares and assigned each of these squares a unique three-word string name based on its coordinates. So, while length.grab.torch is the address of the front door of the White House, guess.mineral.soils is the address of Dubai’s famous landmark Palm Jumeirah.

Now, What3Words is a classic example of a new-age digital business that aims to fundamentally alter the behaviour of the users. So, forget zip codes, locality, street names and latitude/longitude. Here’s a business which aims to disrupt a process that has been in place for countless number of years. So, is fundamental behaviour change the reason behind the success of digital platforms? Let’s try to understand this phenomenon with a few examples.

One of the biggest success stories of recent times is Pokémon GO. What do you think is the reason for its massive success? The game offered a never-seen-before (read behaviour changing) experience to its users. The unique combination of augmented reality combined with a uniquely fresh physical gaming experience is what made it a winner. I argue that more than the Pokémon franchise, it was the push towards behaviour change which brought the game unprecedented success. Such a nicely packaged game would have been equally successful with any other comic franchise (Pokémon lovers would so hate me now!).

Now, put yourself in the shoes of a traveller who has just entered a foreign land. As soon as you land, you walk into a local’s house and start living with him/her. Creepy right? Well, that’s exactly what Airbnb has done with so much success. In fact, it has totally transformed the whole travel experience for users as they get a chance to explore a culture like never before.

If you try and think about most of the successful digital businesses today, you will find that behavior change is the essence of these platforms. Either by design or by default, these platforms have challenged the norms and uprooted many of the existing structures and processes. Think what Uber has done for taxis, Coursera has done for education and Amazon has done for commerce and you will get the drift.

I think there is a lesson to be learnt for all the entrepreneurs and businesses here. Anyone developing a new product or ideating about their next digital venture, should think about a product/service which can give users a new way to think, engage and challenge themselves. Humans are evolving animals and we love it when we are shown a new way of doing things. A successful company will factor in this evolution as it charts its future path. Google is one company which has done that pretty well. I am not trying to say that every game changing, crazy idea will be loved by the customers. There will be failures as well. But the best success stories will be those which create a dent in the world. And that dent is created when you challenge and alter existing conventions!