Who will put you out of business? It should be you.

One of the questions I’ve learned to ask clients is “What’s next?”

As in, what are you thinking about for next year? (Much less the year after that)

It isn’t that what you’re doing today or what you’re launching next month is irrelevant, but it is important that you are already thinking about what you’ll deliver next year because you usually can’t create that / learn it / build it overnight.

You need to start soon, if not today.

But how do you know what to build / where to go?

Study

One way is to study what people smarter than you are doing / investing in. No matter who you are or how smart you are, there’s always someone smarter out there, so you may as well learn from their knowledge, vision and experience.

Another tactic is to study where groups are going that tend to lead your market.

For example, the “adult content” industry has been a technology bellwether for media-related innovation for years. Their direction in media use is uncannily accurate when it comes to predicting future trends in mass-market/consumer media consumption. Their corporate media / technology usage direction is what bears study, rather than their end-user product.

Another way to get an early view is to watch what startups are doing. Not all of them are technology-related, but it’s unusual to find one that doesn’t leverage technology in some way.

When it comes to technology startups and trends, a great source is Mary Meeker‘s annual Internet Trends presentation.

Mary is an experienced venture investor (and partner) at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. You may not have heard of them, but you’ve probably used something they invested in during its journey from idea to product/service. Twitter, Amazon, Intuit, Groupon, Google, Zynga are just a few examples of businesses they’ve funded.

So what does that have to do with you? You aren’t competing with Amazon (yet?) and maybe you aren’t in the software business.

Startups are everywhere

Startups are everywhere, not just in the software business.

I recently attended the Missoula live-streaming (a conference-related trend) of the Lean Startup Conference organized by well-known venture investor Steve Blank, startup CEO Eric Ries and investor Sarah Milstein.

If you look at the conference page, you’ll see some familiar (and not so familiar) names. The startups they represent range from web services to car rental (sharing, actually) to charter schools. Startups are not just about tech geekery and they aren’t limited to Silicon Valley.

The specific startups they’re working on aren’t as important as the trends they are seeing/starting and the markets they are changing/influencing.

Your own industry association is a good source of trend info, but don’t focus so closely on your own market’s leadership that you don’t learn from other industries.

Change is ever present

Change isn’t a constant, but it sure is persistent. Embrace it, leverage it or expect to be run over by it.

Two years ago, General Motors looked dead. GM’s November sales were its best in five years, likely a result of bailout-era changes gaining traction and hitting the market. GM’s China sales are up 14%.

Ten years ago, Microsoft looked unbeatable. Today, it looks a bit bleak per this trend graphic from Meeker’s slide deck. Time will tell if the Surface product line changes things.

Fifteen years ago, WalMart seemed invincible. Today, Amazon and Apple iTunes sell more music and online shopping is a billion dollar business.

Fifty years ago, AT&T was the only phone company in the U.S. and many people shopped at Woolworth.

The point?

Assume nothing. Asking yourself “What’s next?” shouldn’t be a reaction to losing market share/customers. Do it to avoid being made irrelevant.

Speaking of..Apple has had some less than ideal efforts recently. Before Jobs’ passing, they seemed untouchable and recently became the most valuable U.S. company in market cap – bigger than Exxon/Mobil. Despite all that success and momentum, they still have weak spots in their armor.

What are they doing about it? Reports surfaced this week that Apple is working on a order-of-magnitude phone product that’ll make their current iPhone product line irrelevant. They’re asking “What’s next?” before what’s next happens to them.

You should be too, no matter what business you’re in.

2 thoughts on “Who will put you out of business? It should be you.”

  1. “Who will put you out of business? It should be you.” Provocative and perfect.

    “One way is to study what people smarter than you are doing / investing in.” Brilliant, especially in the context of: “As in, what are you thinking about for next year? (Much less the year after that)”

    What I’d really like is the book that COULD follow from that, please. But I will settle for: ‘They’re asking “What’s next?” before what’s next happens to them.’

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