It’s become almost a universal belief that to get “real” innovation you need a broad community of people sharing ideas and helping to improve whatever is being dreamed up. Free from stifling corporate constraints and management process overheads, “open innovation” can go fast, be agile, and take off in unexpected directions. That’s what entrepreneurs do, isn’t it? Many eyes help keep you from blind alleys. Peer review keeps you honest. Buzz gets you market, or at least mindshare. Open is the way to go – and it actually works a lot of the time.
And then there’s Apple.
Back in the mid ‘90s I had to decide, for roughly 90,000 people, whether to standardize on Apple (we needed a “portable” unit like the Macintosh Color Classic II – the Macbook was too expensive and not beefy enough) or Microsoft (pre Windows 95) on the “IBM” PC. We were about evenly split between the two platforms, but staying that way wasn’t going to be an option for a host of reasons. I was told to do an objective evaluation but get everyone onto the same platform.
I still get occasional hate mail for dropping Apple.
It wasn’t that I thought the Intel + Microsoft platform was better, easier to use, or more innovative – at the time it wasn’t really any of those things. And it wasn’t just the price factor (although that was a factor). It was the “lock in” of a closed hardware architecture and limited software options balanced against the ecosystem strategy of an open platform. Even if only the PC hardware platform was truly open (which the Windows software was certainly not), we would have many more options than if we stuck with the Macintosh architecture and a single vendor. Not an easy choice because of the politics and sociology involved (we quickly lost Apple as a client over the decision), but it was technically and economically straightforward.
Back then, Apple wasn’t being run by Steve Jobs, who had been forced out of the company, and it was clearly struggling, which helped with my decision. Jobs was off running Next – and going close to nowhere with some great ideas about how to combine hardware, software, and user interfaces – I really tried hard to find a use for the Next platform and loved NextStep, but it never made sense, and the software alone was a dog on Intel.
Apple didn’t quite go under, of course, and then Jobs came back in 1997 (bringing Next with him), and under his leadership, so did Apple (it took until 2003), with the generations of new form factor iMacs and OS X preserving some of the best features of NextStep; the elegant and sleek MacBook line, the generations of iPod; iTunes and the iTunes store; the iPhone and iOS; the iPad. Nearly a decade of iconic devices and hardware/software/user experience combinations that redefined several major categories of consumer electronics, changed consumer behavior, and defined for many what it is to be “cool” (even the few duds – Apple TV – were cool). Technology as fashion — and not an ounce of open innovation in sight.
Looked at objectively, most of these devices and platforms aren’t really all that much better functionally (if at all) than the available alternatives. But their designs are great. None of them were the first in their category, but they become dominant (or at least created successful niches) very fast. They are all highly “usable.” Their aesthetics (and hence their desirability to some degree) are outstanding. And their functionality is generally good enough. (Ok, no hate mail please. I own and like a lot of Apple’s products. A few really are great, but most are just good enough to get by.) They are also part of a consistent brand system, cleverly tagged as innovative and distinctively different, that sets and then pretty much meets customers’ expectations. That there is a sufficiently large market for this system might be a surprise, but it’s clearly there, clearly loyal, and clearly willing to pay a premium to belong. Because, as Jobs is too seldom quoted as saying:
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
And the Apple crowd, both the tens of millions that buy the devices and the millions that build applications and accessories for them, didn’t (and don’t) care that the system that created this stream of “insanely great” designs was run by a brilliant, moderately beneficent, maniacally focused, secretive dictator and wasn’t in the least bit “open” or interested in becoming so. To a very large extent, it’s still that way – and it’s the most valuable company in the world.
You could say many of the same things about Amazon and Jeff Bezos – and although Amazon isn’t the most valuable company, it’s now the most valuable retailer, passing Walmart in market capitalization. Not much open innovation their either, although there’s the same fan base (including me) and extensive ecosystem of travelers on the Amazon platform. Amazon delights its customers whenever and however it can. Great design (throughout the business, not just on the web site) is a big part of being able to do that. Getting access to delighted customers is valuable to Amazon’s partners, who are willing to conform to Amazon’s rules and thus broaden the reach of the design.
So you can “innovate” and win without an open ecosystem, if you are good enough at design. If you are really good, you can even beat the “open” crowd most of the time. You just have to understand the fundamental principles of great design. Fight for simplicity and elegance. Value both form and function and understand their essential synthesis. Build a team that “gets it” for all the above and delivers it every day with every product and service. Apply these principles to everything you do, not just the products you make. Drive endlessly for perfection, even though you probably won’t ever get there. Learn from your mistakes, but never apologize for trying. Rinse and repeat.
It’s just that most of us aren’t that good.
John Parkinson is an Affiliate Partner at Waterstone Management Group and CEO of Entertainment Experience LLC. He has served as CTO and in similar capacities for large global companies including TransUnion, Cap Gemini, AXIS Capital, and Ernst & Young Consulting. He currently provides business, technology, and operational strategy advice to a range of global businesses and works with PE investors to select, improve, and monetize portfolio companies through ParkWood Advisors, which he founded in 2005.
John Koetsier’s recent report, “Marketing Clouds: How the best companies are winning via marketing technology,” was full of great insights into where marketing clouds are headed. It also found that marketing cloud users have barely scratched the surface when it comes to video, revealing that only about 20 percent of the 1,500 marketers surveyed use the video marketing tools featured in their marketing cloud solutions.
Some of the commentary I’ve read on the report made me think I would need to find a new career path. (I’m the CEO and cofounder of the video marketing and analytics platform Vidyard.) But rather than see this as a sign that video hasn’t caught on, I see the results as an opportunity for video. Five years ago, if someone had asked marketers about their use of social media technology, only about 20 percent would have said they were invested there, too. Look how far social has come. Just about every company now has a person, if not a team, dedicated to social. We’re already starting to see the same thing with video, and adoption is hitting an exponential curve.
Video is poised for huge growth in both B2B and B2C marketing. That’s what I see in all the other data and anecdotal evidence about video. My own company has seen 1,000-percent growth in customers using video platform technology in the last two years. Last year, a joint report from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs found that video ranked higher than white papers, infographics and research reports for content marketing, and was up 6 points over 2013.
And that doesn’t even take into account the big picture statistics on online video. Internet prognosticator extraordinaire Mary Meeker predicts that, by 2017, 74 percent of all internet traffic will be video. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have all made bets on video recently.
So clearly video is working, and there’s going to be more of it. Then why is the 20 percent number so low?
There are a couple of things going on here. First, video capabilities within marketing clouds and marketing automation platforms are pretty minimal at this point. While they support the ability to embed videos within marketing campaigns and web pages, most do not even offer video hosting capabilities, let alone tools to track audience engagement or detailed viewer analytics. With little native video functionality, it’s not surprising to see that most marketers haven’t adopted the video technology offered within their marketing cloud. But that doesn’t mean solutions aren’t out there or that customers aren’t adopting video technology as a fast pace. Third-party video marketing platforms offer rich integrations with marketing clouds such as Hubspot, ExactTarget, Salesforce, Eloqua and Marketo to help marketers integrate video with their various campaigns and digital channels, and even track the second-by-second viewing behavior of each customer and prospect to enhance qualification and nurturing. Other technologies help to serve video ads to targeted accounts across multiple networks while still others enable marketers to generate 1-to-1 personalized videos to boost audience engagement.
Meanwhile, many companies that are doing video are doing it without getting the full benefits. They’re posting videos to YouTube or even on their own websites, but they aren’t taking advantage of the tools that would come from a video marketing platform. Analytics are often a big part of the marketing cloud sales pitch (and the most-used feature according to John’s research), but when it comes to video, marketing clouds don’t offer very impressive analytics. Like YouTube, they might give you vanity metrics such as total views, views-by-day or even views-by-device. Those are nice and all, but they don’t necessarily help turn prospects into customers, and isn’t that ultimately the goal of marketing? When marketers fully commit to video, they want to know by name who watched their videos. They want to know whether the person watched the entire video or turned it off after 10 seconds. They want to be able to use an entertaining top-of-funnel video to point potential customers to more detailed materials that guide them along the buying journey.
Marketing clouds simply aren’t there yet, so it’s no wonder only 20 percent of marketers are using marketing clouds for video. But with the incredible success marketers are seeing with video to boost SEO, engagement time and conversions rates, you can bet that adoption of video and related technologies will continue to grow rapidly. We’ll just have to wait and see if the marketing clouds bring advanced video technology natively into their platforms or if it remains the domain of those solution-providers that offer core expertise in video marketing.
Michael Litt is CEO of Vidyard, a video marketing and analytics platform based in Kitchener, Ontario.
Salesforce has signed a definitive agreement to acquire digital experience and engagement consultancy AKTA. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. A Salesforce spokeperson confirmed the news but declined to provide any additional information, instead referring us to AKTA’s announcement.
Founded by John Roa, Chicago, Ill.-based AKTA has spent the last five years working to help bring “design-led digital transformation” to companies like SpotOn, Agentis Energy, SocialCrunch, Starbucks, Motorola Solutions, Verizon, and others.
Roa shared in his post that through the acquisition, “we will be able to help bring customers’ vision to life with a truly novel combination of strategic leadership, design thinking, brand strategy, industry-leading engineering and software.”
The acquisition of design consultancies by bigger companies probably isn’t surprising. Corporations have been looking to add design expertise in-house to help offer better services to their customers. Some notable ones include Capital One’s acquisition of Adaptive Path and Monsoon; Accenture’s pick up of Fjord Design; Google’s purchase of Mike & Maaike; and Facebook’s grab of Hot Studio.
Adding AKTA’s capabilities to the Salesforce mix is certainly interesting as now instead of just providing software to help companies do better by their customers, the aesthetic look and feel of their products (powered by Salesforce’s customer relationship management tool, of course) will be more inviting, and “innovative”.
Roa’s post suggests that no layoffs are planned.
AKTA declined to provide any further information when reached for comment.
Powered by VBProfiles
[Get all the tech funding news of the day delivered straight to your mailbox! Sign up for Funding Daily and never miss a deal.]
Here’s a list of today’s tech funding stories, updated as the day unfolds. Tip us here if you have a deal to share.
Tanium raises another $120M and hits $3.5B post-money valuation
Enterprise software company Tanium announced today that it took in $120 million more for its latest round from TPG, Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), T. Rowe Price, and Andreessen Horowitz. The investment brings the funding total to $262M and sets Tanium at a whooping $3.5 billion post-money valuation, the company told VentureBeat.
Apttus raises $108M, becoming another unicorn
Quote-to-cash company Apttus, which operates upon Salesforce‘s platform, announced yesterday that it raised a $108 million C round from Iconiq Capital, K1 Capital, KIA, and Salesforce Ventures. Apttus had already raised $78M in previous rounds and says to have 70 of the Fortune 500 companies in its portfolio. The investment bring the company to the $1 billion valuation, giving Apttus unicorn status.
Content marketing platform NewsCred is today announcing a new round of $42 million to help it evolve into a broader marketing platform.
The new funding, which brings the total raised to $88.8 million, will be used to double the company’s sales team and to support software development of the platform.
FTV Capital led this Series D round, with participation from existing investors FirstMark Capital, InterWest Partners, and Mayfield Fund.
Universal Avenue closes $5M for expansion
Swedish startup Universal Avenue, which provides SaaS and says to give “businesses on-demand access to a direct sales team in any location around the world,” raised $5 million in a round led by Northzone and Salesforce Ventures. Universal Avenue already has offices in the UK and Greece, and announced today that it plans to use the funds to fuel its sales and marketing teams to further expand into Europe.
The startup has raised at least $7 million to date. Existing investor MOOR also participated in the investment.
More: Universal Avenue
This list will be updated with breaking funding news all day. Check back for more.
Amazon Web Services (AWS), the Amazon-owned public cloud that companies can use to build and run applications, announced today the availability of an open-source software-development kit (SDK) for the popular object-oriented programming language C++.
The new SDK is one of several AWS has made available to developers to help them build applications on that cloud. AWS has previously released SDKs for Google-led Go, Microsoft’s .NET, Node.js, PHP, Python, Ruby, and Scala.
“This SDK has been specifically designed with game developers in mind, but we have also worked hard to maintain an interface that will work for systems engineering tasks, as well as other projects that simply need the efficiency of native code,” Amazon software development engineer Jonathan Henson wrote in a blog post on the news.
AWS has already built up quite a following among developers, but this new tooling makes it easier for more of them to start building code with hooks into AWS infrastructure. That’s important as AWS faces competition in the public cloud from Microsoft, Google, IBM, VMware, and other companies.
It’s surprising that it took this long for AWS to ship a C++ SDK, though. C++, a descendent of C that first appeared in the late 1970s, is very widely used by programmers. It was the seventh most popular technology in Stack Overflow’s 2015 developer survey. it’s also the seventh most popular language on GitHub. Scala, by contrast, didn’t make the top 10 on either list. Go figure.
The C++ SDK for AWS is available now on GitHub here.
Powered by VBProfiles
The holidays are just around the corner — not really — and Lenovo/Motorola took the stage at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin today to unveil its next generation of computers, tablets, phones, and smartwatches.
Here’s everything the Chinese company wants you to put on your wish list this year.
Lenovo-owned Motorola today unveiled the next generation of its round Moto 360 smartwatch line, featuring two sizes for men — 46mm and 42mm, a sport model with GPS, a women’s collection available just in the 42mm size, and customization support via Motorola’s Moto Maker service.
The updated 360 will set you back between $300 and $430, depending on which model you choose. Eager Android Wear fans can preorder the new 360 now online — but you’ll have to wait for the new sport model — “We’ll share more details on Moto 360 Sport availability soon,” said Motorola.
Today Lenovo revealed its Vibe S1 smartphone featuring two front-facing cameras.
That’s right — the Vibe S1 is all about taking selfies. Equipped with an 8-megapixel main camera for capturing detail and a 2-megapixel camera for depth, this phone also features editing tools for creating the ultimate selfie. In contrast, the iPhone 6 Plus features a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera; even the Samsung S6 Edge tops out at 5 megapixels for its front-facing camera.
A new Yoga tablet
Lenovo also raised the curtain on the Yoga Tab 3 Pro. The projector-equipped tablet comes with a new design, a Dolby Atmos sound bar on the stand that is supposed to make it more powerful, 18 hours of battery life, and a 10.1-inch QHD screen.
Lenovo also released the Yoga Tab 3, which comes in two sizes, 8 inch and 10 inch. It features a 180 degree rotatable camera and up to 20 hours of battery life. This tablet also supports LTE.
Laptops, desktops, convertibles, and gaming computers
Of course Lenovo had to showcase its new set of computers.
- The Chinese giant pushed the new ThinkPad Yoga 260 and 460 convertibles, which both come with a 12.5-inch display and are supposed to connect faster to the Web with an optional LTE-Advanced wireless WAN.
- A new set of gaming computers, in both desktop and laptop form. Lenovo also ventured into the accessory market for gamers. New accessories include a programmable mouse, a gaming headset, and branded backpacks.
- The ThinkCentre M900 Tiny is Lenovo’s bet for an “ultra-powerful desktop” with emphasis on “performance, reliability and unmatched expansion options.”