A curious email arrived in my inbox this morning from a new service I’ve recently joined. Curious mainly for a central feature that they’d woven into the footer of the email:
Know that you are welcome to contact us at any time about anything. And you’ll get a reply from a real, live human.
Personalized, human service as a competitive advantage.
It’s a theme we’re seeing a lot these days. As technology touches, and often manhandles, more and more parts of our lives many are looking to be made to feel human again. An individual, being understood and serviced as an individual. With expectations and needs all their own.
In his recent rant on the types of problems the next Steve Jobs would tackle, Umair riffs on the need for companies to stop working on the solved problems of the past and start tackling the emergent problems of the present. In it, he takes aim at one of startupland’s sacred cows: scale:
Scale is a solved problem. We know how to do stuff at very, very large scale — if by stuff you mean “churning out the same widget, a billion times over”. What we don’t know how to do is the opposite of scaling up: scaling down an institution, to make a difference to a human life. Lives are singular; and for institutions to truly matter in human terms, they must go beyond the homogeneous, to the singular.
Yet, scale, not this move towards the single individual, is at the heart of the venture funded startup model. Creating billion dollar business on a 10 year time horizon mapping to venture fund life cycles and return expectations doesn’t work one customer, one interaction, at a time. We need scale for these models to work.
But the web isn’t much concerned with what our industry needs. It is unbundling and scaling down right under our noses.
Andy takes a stab at what this scaling down might mean for consumers, founders and investors:
*this is great for users of services - someone will build, and users can find, the specific application or service that serves their desires precisely*this may be great for some entrepreneurs that embrace this state of fragmentation and can set their expectations to be consistent with it*maybe not so great for other entrepreneurs and even venture investors - the winner take all era of web services may no longer make sense and thus may be ending.