Is your business – or industry – the next Myspace?

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Even under the most promising conditions, running a successful business can be a nail-biting experience. 

The rate of failure within the first year or so is about 80%.

The assumption is that if a business achieves success, it is likely to keep it.

Like many traditional assumptions about business, this is no longer true.

In the old days, and by “old” I mean up until the past five years or so, a business established a “brand” and an area of professional expertise and an reputation of integrity and reliability – and generation after generation of satisfied customers.

Established businesses, once established, were expected to flourish and expand indefinitely. Examples would be General Motors, GE, IBM and many more.

To put it mildly, these days are gone, perhaps forever.

We might consider our era one of political polarization, but our business environment is at least as toxic.

It is not just small, niche businesses that are vulnerable to the whims of the marketplace or public relations faux pas. Every business, of every size, has become a target.

The list of retailers on the verge of, or well on the way, to bankruptcy, is long and growing by the day. Here is an article, as of the end of March 2018, of businesses on their way out - https://clark.com/shopping-retail/major-retailers-closing-2018/.

Too many signs like this have become permanent  Photo: Morf Morford

Too many signs like this have become permanent
Photo: Morf Morford

As frightening as this list is, it is incomplete, and continually expanding.

Besides multi-thousands of retail (and related) jobs disappearing, our entire economic landscape is shifting – if not in a state of total upheaval.

Who of us would have imagined even a year ago, the disappearance of Toys R Us? Who’s next? Can Sears or Macy’s be far behind?

Debt, massive, seemingly inconceivably, immeasurable amounts of debt seem to swirl around every business and yes, government.

The US national debt is projected to hit (and quickly surpass) a trillion dollars – annually – almost immediately – (https://www.npr.org/2018/04/09/600898950/-1-trillion-deficits-to-return-national-debt-to-rise-projects-cbo).

And then we have the public relations fiasco – represented most recently by Starbucks in Philadelphia.

Starbucks, or any company, might argue, with a fair amount of integrity, that the “mistake” of a single worker should not stain the brand, reputation and legacy of the entire company. But the reality is that businesses live or die based on their brand recognition and reputation.

Earning a prominent place, or even defining a new industry has little to do with maintaining dominance or even survival in it.

Some pioneers of business somehow lose their edge and disappear forever. Anyone remember Netscape? They “owned” the web browser landscape – until they didn’t. Pets.com, RadioShack and Napster are legendary in their highly visible crashing and burning.

But it continues, Pandora is floundering. And major companies – renowned for their vision and success – also have their catastrophes. Apple, for example, tried to sell us some supreme (and vastly over-priced) duds – most notably the Newton and the Lisa (1*). Here’s an article on Apple’s worst products – and it doesn’t even mention those two - https://www.macworld.co.uk/feature/apple/11-worst-apple-product-failures-3515144/.

Know anyone with a Microsoft Windows phone?

Computer pioneer names like Osborne, Commodore or Sinclair are lost in the mists of cyber-antiquity (the early 1980s). (2*)

Real memory is found in experiences - not chipsPhoto: Morf Morford

Real memory is found in experiences – not chips Photo: Morf Morford

Even our esteemed national CEO has had some notable flops (https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/donald-trumps-13-biggest-business-failures-20160314). Trump Steaks, anyone?

The market has changed and continues to change.

Who among us, for example, in 2010, would have imagined the disappearance of book stores? Or music stores? Or video stores? It wasn’t the Great Recession that killed those stores – it was market preference for streaming music and video and e-books.

I see fewer and fewer people using e-readers and more and more people reading actual solid paper books – but they buy them online. I don’t know about anyone else, but I miss the hands-on experience (and the smell) of searching through books and stumbling upon an unexpected package that will keep me entranced for weeks.

Yes, I can get a note from Amazon telling me that “Customers who bought this, also bought that.” I do not care what “other customers” did – in fact it makes me dislike and distrust Amazon.

Who of us is not a bit skittish about what we post on Facebook lately? Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook all think they know us. They have all made fortunes on our “preferences” and cat videos, but at what cost to our IRT (In Real Time) social encounters, our economy or our political process?  http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/04/05/silicon-valley-beware-big-five/

I know it is hard to believe, but Netflix, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook will not be dominant forever. They, perhaps more than they realize, are not so different from the brick and mortar businesses they so gleefully replaced.

There is something like a revolution afoot.

Many people are beginning to crave direct face to face relationships and real life experience. (If you want a place to start with actual human non-mediated conversation, you could start here – http://www.conversationcafe.org/).

antique-typewriter-freeByPexels-917476-WEB

I don’t know if it is vain exercise in denial or a cry for the authentic, but among young people in particular, we are seeing the revival of vinyl and even manual typewriters (https://www.ft.com/content/6d480dcc-13d6-11e4-b46f-00144feabdc0). This longing also generated a documentary – http://californiatypewritermovie.com/.

We love the reach and scale of the internet and the immediacy of texting and our magical, if not addictive, devices, but sometimes all I want is a simple, direct face to face conversation, or even silence.

As several tech observers have urged, we need technology that makes us more human – not less.

What are some devices, goods or services that enhance – not replace – human experience?

The market is waiting for “the next big thing.” It might as well have your name on it.

Nothing in this world – especially the world of commerce – is static. Opportunities open as quickly as they close – and disappear as suddenly as they emerge.

This business world can be a wild ride, but there is nothing like it. The rewards are many, but the waters can be treacherous.

Traditional business models have been upended, and the usual rules do not apply. Is giving away your product (like Google, Facebook and every email provider) business genius or suicide?

Only time will tell. All we know for sure is that, as with past generations, many common names today will be forgotten tomorrow.

Myspace is considered by many to be the first cyber-ghetto. It won’t be the last.

 

(1*)    The Lisa, introduced in 1983, ran on a Motorola 68000 microprocessor and came equipped with 1 MB of RAM, a 12-inch black-and-white monitor, dual 5.25-inch floppy disk drives and a 5 MB “Profile” hard drive – all for just under $10,000.

(2*)   For a survey of computer history (beginning in the 1930s) check out this website – http://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/