Learning from Near Misses

Well, I warned that this blog would jump around a bit.  This one will be a good example.

A common cliche is, “learn from your mistakes.”  Certainly, like most cliches, there is truth in this statement, but the problem with the statement is that it hard to learn from mistakes because mistakes are often associated with many missteps.  So, I like to think that it is easier to learn from near misses – situations that were very close to success except for one or two obvious missteps.  A semantic?  Maybe.  Or maybe I just don’t want to dwell on outright failures.

Anyway, back on point.  This story goes to a project that I was working on when I was at Radialpoint in the summer of 2007.  Radialpoint is a company that focused on selling software-as-a-service through large Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

We received an RFP from one of the world’s largest ISPs.  Normally not a lot of good comes from an RFP, but this one was a perfect fit with our product strategy and roadmap.  A small team of us worked on the RFP response, and after being added to the short-list of potential vendors, we put together a killer proof-of-concept and a prototype for a desktop application that would handle all service (software) downloads for subscribers.  It would handle marketing (advertising), provisioning (downloads and uninstalls) and updating of the services – both free (e.g. Adobe Acrobat) and paid (e.g. online backup).  It also had a really good business analytics back end that reported on service levels, churn, most popular applications, reasons for failed downloads, and many other measures.

The prototype demonstrated that we already had the client-side software and – more importantly – the back end servers to handle the service provisions, reporting and load.  The proof-of-concept was a Flash-based (it was 2007!) UI that really showed off what we could do from a look-and-feel and user experience perspective.  We also put forward a plan for how we would handle smart phones.  Remember that this was around the exact time of the first iPhone launch in the US and almost exactly one year before the launch of the Apple App Store.

The ISP in question loved our proposition and our vision for the future.  So, did we win the business?  No.  To make a short story long, we drastically overpriced the proposal.  We would have done well with 10% of the price we quoted.  In the end, the ISP went with the second choice because they came in much cheaper.  That vendor never came through on the promise – and to the best of my knowledge – the desktop application for all services (effectively an ISP App Store) never made it to market.

So what is the learning from a near miss?  Get it ALL right.  In this case, when you are first to market, find a business model that works for all parties and don’t price yourself out of a market that doesn’t even yet exist!

Yes, I often dream about what we might have accomplished.  Certainly many other ISPs would have jumped on for their own services-based “stores,” but whether or not they would have dominated the market instead of Apple, that is a question to which we will never know the answer.

One thing I can say is that I never plan on letting something I can control get in the way of unanswered questions again.

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