One theme you’ll hear me harp on if you hang around long enough is the somewhat grating concept of “owning the customer”. This phrase comes up all the time in marketing and biz dev discussions, and while it’s not necessarily intended in a disrespectful way, I think the underlying premise can be dangerous and create real blindspots in guiding companies and product lines.
Once upon a time, humans struggled with scarcity. Scarcity of food, shelter, day to day stuff. Any cursory look around will tell you we have the opposite problem today – as the means of producing and marketing things became more and more efficient, cheap, and accessible, the availability of stuff has exploded. Combine this with Marc Andreesen’s famous observation that software is eating the world, it’s no wonder that for so many problems, the number of viable software solutions (especially cloud based solutions) is large.
Obviously this does not apply to every industry or go-to-market approach. Enterprise sales take a long time, car factories are still expensive and hard to build. But in the world of fitness devices and cloud-based solutions, I’d argue the barriers to entry are low and getting lower. So the market is likely to be fractured. In the consumer space, your odds of owning the customer are slim. You don’t own them, you serve them. So you must focus maniacally on doing this the best you can, and not worry about locking in the customer.
I was inspired to write on this topic by the news of Nike re-energizing their partnership with TomTom, and announcing Nike+ compatibility with Garmin devices. Of all the companies that might want to take a “walled garden” approach in fitness tracking, Nike and Garmin are two that you might guess have a decent shot at locking customers in to their complete solution. But even Nike got chased out of the wearables market in favor of partnering with other hardware companies. All these vendors are smart enough to see that while they can each offer end-to-end solutions, they can do better by making their products and services cross compatible.
I still see a lot of companies in the fitness space who are under-promoting, or altogether avoiding, cross compatibility. I think every company in this space ought to have the technical resources, like APIs, that open the right level of services and data access to third party developers, and I’m working on a database of apps and their third party ecosystem support. Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to learn more.