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12 Things Business Platforms Want

If you were a platform what would be your aims and needs?

Business platforms are incredibly complex business organisations. I recently started to unpick the ecosystem of the apartment and room sharing platform Airbnb. There were at least 20 elements of this platform's ecosystem.

As well as its ecosystem it would be managing millions of monthly bookings from all corners of the planet, automatically processing the transactions and dividing up the fees as well as sending out the invoices, updating host accounts, setting up the review for post-stay feedback, dealing with local regulations in more than a hundred countries and so on. Not bad for a company that is only around 10 years old.

How then to understand in some simple what it means to be build a platform? There's been an avalanche of books about platforms recently, mostly from people who haven't built them or participated in them. And that's meant the idea of a business platform has increasingly looked like a two-sided market (with network effects!!!).
To give you a quick sense of the business drivers of platforms I put together a list. In the spirit of Kevin Kelly's book What Technology Wants, where is my list of what platforms want.
  1. Platforms want unproductive or underused assets to which they can bring efficiency and scale; they need to hunt down those assets.
  2. They want to function at speed, because that is the only way to get to scale and deliver scope, and bear in mind economies of scope are important but take executives into a new space  -beyond traditional ideas about core competency and into the word of multiple adjacencies.
  3. Platforms want to eliminate friction in business; they are, fundamentally, engineering masterpieces that apply computing ingenuity to automate processes wherever possible
  4. They want Information, conversation, advocacy, content and community; platforms thrive when they are talked about and advocated and when, therefore, they do not need traditional brute force marketing.
  5. They want and need data so that they can optimise and scale demand and supply. After, all they are all about restructuring markets.
  6. Platforms breed trusted relationships at the minimal possible overhead - they replace “legal” agreements with terms and conditions, and rules of the road; so they work on techniques of trust building that don't draw in negotiated contracts and legal overhead.
  7. Platforms really want to learn, to be continuous learners and improvers, because they cannot afford to be left behind.
  8. They want as much self-governance as possible in their ecosystems. They have a strong dependency on self-determining groups like developer or content communities that take the risk and cost of scale.
  9. They want the best and most innovative approaches to software; they adopt new practices incessantly
  10. They want to externalise as many core processes as possible; they want not just to delegate innovation risk but to draw in partners and providers to make-up the bulk of support activities. But a key characteristic is that platforms devolve risk onto third parties, especially innovation risk and content creation; this is pretty much their secret sauce.
  11. They want to change how we create and consume value.
  12. Above all platforms want a very low barrier to entry for their ecosystems; one of the key management tasks is not just to orchestrate these ecosystems but to ensure that barriers to entry are low and are continuously lowered.

If you are thinking about platform strategy you could do well to consider those 12 points. Over the years I've been looking at platforms they strike me as the most significant. Of course I'm waiting to hear from you - what did I miss?

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