Tesla and SpaceX are very exciting and changing the future of the world and all, but they are long term bets, accessible only to the rich. If they shut today most people would move on without a tear.
Twitter on the other hand, yes, it would cause a pang for many, especially politicians and others who use it to advocate their point of view.
In the horrifying images coming out of Ukraine, one thing stands out – the usage of phones to stay in touch and stay safe. For that they need hardware, electricity, telecom infra and then messaging software – with encrypted apps like Telegram and Signal being the most downloaded currently. Starlink, a broadband service operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX is amongst the most downloaded apps, as it helps keep connectivity going even through power outages.
Duolingo is rising in popularity as exile looms, as are games like Talking Tom to keep kids and adults occupied amidst the shelling (there’s an app to warn you of that too.)
Technology is not just about livelihood but about life itself.
Over a long-ago (pre-COVID, but it seems like another era) lunch with K Ganesh, serial entrepreneur with a finger in many pies like BigBasket and Portea, he said that he and his partner, Meena Ganesh wanted to be in businesses where customers would cry if it was no longer available. BigBasket is definitely a habit, and Portea gives peace of mind to many sufferers.
I have no sense of direction whatsoever and I used to get lost even 2 km from home. In order not to expose myself too much I’d call multiple people for directions. So I’d definitely cry if Google Maps went away.
I would also cry a bit for Google Search, Gmail, Gpay, Whatsapp, TripAdvisor, MakeMyTrip, Booking.com, Dunzo, Swiggy, Licious, Apple, Dyson vacuums, Mi Robot, Indigo Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Starbucks, Nike, Amazon.com and a few others.
Are there businesses that countries would cry over? Yes. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also a trade war being fought by commercial organizations both independently as well as at the behest of their governments. President Trump lost his bully pulpit on Twitter because they banned him. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba are big, rich, and, because they control the world’s cloud infrastructure, very powerful. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Telegram, Yahoo are used for messaging by many countries, including even governments. Therefore they will definitely cause tears when they exit.
In the geopolitical context you need food, energy and technology self-sufficiency in order to be truly strong. Communication is essential to success in war and peace and the infrastructure and tools for that is highly concentrated in a few geographies.
It is also concentrated in the hands of a few super rich private individuals – we could see the rise of digital colonialism. It’s amazing how in the span of my career we’ve gone from “gee, what’s a search engine” to “digital marketing is the next big thing” to “we can’t work if the internet is down”.
Back to marketing
Truly impactful businesses are not just a habit, but “missable”. Sure, everyone and everything is eventually replaceable but there should be a pang if you are not there. Are you building a business worth crying over?
Mind you, it doesn’t have to be just the customers who “cry” for you. It can also be other stakeholders – like employees and investors whose lives you transform and who will miss you if you are no longer there. Think stock options that distribute wealth. Think cooperative movements like Amul that harness the power of individuals. If we’re lucky most of us have worked in at least one organization that we still miss – because it transformed an aspect of our life.
In my consulting work I find it very fulfilling when I am able to put the pieces together to find a credible, meaningful “why”. Every successful business has a good reason to exist, but it often isn’t articulated or consciously promoted. Once you can say it clearly everything falls into place. It’s like solving wordle on the 2nd try 🙂
In Chapter 3 of my book, Marketing Without Money, I discuss how building a unique identity is directly linked to having clarity on the vision of the company. I cite examples like Jaipur Rugs and Google where they are very clear about why they do what they do.
Even as we live and work in digital nation states, it is the human element that we cry over.
Have a great weekend!