The Beauty of freaks: A special business model of chefs and mountain guides

I just had the pleasure to spend sometime with two passionate freaks and both have built a business around their uniqueness and idiosyncrasies. The idea behind this post is to inspire you to find YOUR business model for YOU. Do not copy somebody else but find something that fits YOU and YOUR unique skills.

I spent the last week ski mountaineering in Italy in Valle Maira (south east of the piedmont region, east of Cuneo). It was a very enjoyable vacation with lot’s of fun, work and pleasure but also with learnings I want to share with you.

I learned from two people, Lucas Iten, our mountain guide and chef Enrico Crippa from the two Michelin star restaurant Piazza Duomo in Alba. Both are passionates. Both are freaks.

Mountain guide Lucas Iten

The first freak I encountered was our Swiss mountain guide Lucas Iten also called Mountain Geier. Actually, Lucas is not really customer-oriented; he is just the best in finding the best run under the present circumstances. And the best run is not really defined by the customer but the possibilities of the day. And if that means to climbed 1700m than you better ascend.

You have to fit to Lucas. When you do, you have one of the best times possible in the mountains. He loves the runs; he is like a child with all his enthusiasm and joy. He is childlike but very professional in regard to planing and the risk of avalanches. He loves the days out in the mountains and loves to share his enthusiasm. We found runs local alpinist were surprised that you could make them.

Early in life, Lucas knew that the mountains will be his life. In a young age, he climbed the Eiger Northface and did everything to avoid things he was not the best at like school. Continue reading The Beauty of freaks: A special business model of chefs and mountain guides

Architectural Innovation: Taking control of the value chain

Architectural innovations are often what customers do not see immediately but there are core of any good strategy. While in the last years we saw a trend toward concentration on core activities like marketing and branding, some companies take the opposite route. And that is good.

I was recently in Egypt to give a workshop on business model innovation. I received an invitation from the Executive Institute, a young and upcoming executive education institute based in Cairo. I was absolutely intrigued by the participants and their entrepreneurial drive. We can all learn from them in the so-called developed countries since they are true entrepreneurs and risk-takers. Participants came from different backgrounds ranging from food and telco, real estate development to plumbing and fixings.

Concentrate on the core

The traditional view on the value chain is to concentrate on the core activities. So almost all consumer electronics, computer or mobile equipment firms have outsourced their production to specialized manufacturers, so-called contract manufacturers or electronics manufacturing services (EMS). The western firms like Apple, Dell or IBM concentrate on the design, R&D, marketing and sales of the devices and leave the manufacturing to EMSs like Flextronics(165.000 employees) or Foxconn (113.000 employees).  Outsourcing manufacturing to specialized firms is the norm in their industries. Foxconn manufacturers for Apple and Intel while Microsoft is a customer of Flextronics.

This architectural or operational model looks very convincing since the story line “Concentrate on the core” sounds very plausible. By concentrating on your core capabilities, you focus on what you are strong at. In the case of Apple, that is design, usability, marketing and branding.

The perils of the “core”

However, there is a peril in this model as well, particularly when you are not as strong in core capabilities. E.g. Hong-Ta Corporation was the manufacturer of the innovative Palm Treo 650 or of the Compaq iPaq, one of the first smartphones.  Today, HTC as the firm is known today is very strong in smartphones and was one of pioneers in phones with Google’s operating system Android. Interestingly, Palm and Compaq are today irrelevant in the growing markets for smartphones. And both former pioneers are now part of Hewlett Packard.

Backwards Integration: You can do the opposite as well

At the same time as the IT and electronics industries are following the mantra of “concentrating on core competencies” other firms in other industries do just the opposite. Let’s look at food companies. Continue reading Architectural Innovation: Taking control of the value chain

Brands are the icing on the business model

How do brands and business model work together? That is a key question for successful companies because if they do not align brand and business model it will backfire, probably not in the short run but surely in the long run.

Branding is a hot topic. Brands give products the magic touch. With branding regular, normal products morph into highly desired status symbols customers are willing to pay a premium for. Branding worked very well in the last years but is branding sustainable?

Brands are not sustainable if the foundation is missing

Branding is not sustaining when you have a business model that does not support your brand or vice versa, your brand promises something you cannot fulfill. If you focus too much on branding you create over the long run, a perception gap between what you promise and what you deliver. It is like the icing on the wedding cake. It looks great but very rarely does a wedding cake taste as good as it looks.

Let us look at one example.

The Ergo Insurance Case

The German insurance company Ergo Gruppe is the holding company of the well-know household brands Victoria Insurance and the famous Hamburg Mannheimer Insurance. Lately, Ergo decided to consolidate its brands under the fresh brand Ergo. Ergo tapped into people’s discomfort that insurance companies are great in sales but very bad when it comes to ease to understand the policy condition and in the case of a claim.

From this customer insight of discomfort with traditional insurance companies Ergo created the claim “Versichern bedeutet verstehen.” or in English “To insure means to understand”. Ergo used all communication channels and very well made commercials to establish the brand Ergo among German consumers. In the ads, people ask why it is so difficult to get insured, why the agents do not take them serious. Continue reading Brands are the icing on the business model

Design Thinking revisited: A conversation with Scott Underwood

Following my blog article on Design Thinking and business model innovation, a vivid discussion about design thinking and business model thinking started. Lately, Scott Underwood joined the discussion. For over 20 years, Scott worked in the Palo Alto and San Francisco offices of IDEO, the global design and innovation firm.

During the last dozen years, his role involved writing, editing, speaking, and teaching about design thinking and the company’s history, culture, and processes. Scott is not IDEO’s spokesperson but a person with insights into the design thinking process. I would like to share his insights with you on the importance of the problem

definition phase and of challenging the assumption of your thinking. Below, you find what Scott wrote in his comment. I have added some emphasis to what Scott wrote.

Scott Underwood, formerly with IDEO, on Design Thinking

Patrick, I can’t give an answer that applies to all of IDEO; I’m not a spokesman, so this is my opinion: Despite definitions that we see in books and websites, design thinking remains a fairly fuzzy and dynamic concept — the phrase “nailing Jello to a wall” comes to mind. However, the problem definition phase of a project is a key component, and this is where not only big corporations but individuals like me fail. Continue reading Design Thinking revisited: A conversation with Scott Underwood

Open Innovation: Does it work?

Open innovation is a big trend today in innovation management. Where are its strengths and limitations? A discussion with Atizo.

Today, I had a long chat with Isabel Steiner and Sabine Hofer from Atizo, an entrepreneurial platform for open innovation. Atizo is a platform where companies can post a question to a crowd to get more and better solutions. This is called open innovation since you are not looking inside your own firm for ideas but to a broader spectrum of people. Some call it crowd sourcing for ideas.

The idea behind open innovation is fascinating. With Atizo, you can address more than 8.000 people with ¾ with academic background to look for fresh ideas. The biggest advantage besides the size of crowd of the “innovators” is the fresh viewpoint on the problem. You take advantage that the innovators do not know the way you always have solved the problem in the past; they are not stuck with your dominant logic.

Atizo’s platform allows companies to generate ideas, evaluate ideas and develop the ideas into marketable concepts.

The idea funnel from Atizo

Depending from your scope you want to use, you can use either the whole crowd, a subsection of your customer and clients if you are a business or you can just invite your closest community for the innovation project.

The different crowds to source from at Atizo

Due to these strengths, open innovation became a huge success in the last years. Well-regarded firms like Swisscom, Mammut, Google or BMW have used Atizo’s platform for open innovation to find new solutions.

So, is Atizo a success?

Success Story Atizo

Yes, since most customers were positively surprised about the quality of the solution. The open innovation idea works. The open innovation platform is fast and cheap to generate idea.

However, as every innovator knows, having even great ideas is not enough. Ideas have to be implemented in the firm AND adopted by the customers. First, implementation in the firm is already difficult since so many impediments like lacking resources; different priorities of top management, wrong corporate culture, Not-invented-here syndrome etc. can and will mostly likely kill the idea.

Secondly, an innovation is not what you think it is, but what the customer adopts. Therefore, from the many great ideas only few have seen the market. The classic dilemma of all innovators.

It is the question, stupid!

Moreover, what Atizo also figures out is how important it is which question you ask. Quite often, the question is very closed and so narrowly defined that the ideas are typical MOTS ideas (more-of-the-same). Nevertheless, do not criticize the ideas and solutions. The problem is with the questions. These questions are so framed by the dominant logic of the current business that really break-through ideas cannot be found. This is the same criticism I have already raised in the case of “Design Thinking”. If you ask the wrong questions, you get irrelevant answers.

Solution anybody?

So we discussed how better questions can be asked. One option is to amend the open innovation process with a phase where the crowd can deliver insights into unsolved problems they see with a current solution. They could deliver insights in the jobs that are still unsolved. Moreover, with these fresh insights even better solutions and ideas could be found. Any other idea?

Thomas Middelhoff or how to earn money with a bad business model

Thomas Middelhoff was the CEO of the now insolvent German retail conglomerate Arcandor formerly known as KarstadtQuelle. Thomas Middelhoff has a good sense for timing. He left Arcandor in March 2009 just 3 months before the company had to file for bankrupcy in June. What made his stint at Arcandor so remarkable was not that he turned around the business of Arcandor but his ability to benefit personally from his position at Arcandor.

I am following the Arcandor business case for a while and I have written about the failure to innovate its business model in the past. So a recent  article of Süddeutsche on Arcandor grabed my attention.

The German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reports (in German) that Middelhoff is by far better of than his former employer Arcandor and its employees that have lost their jobs. Süddeutsche Zeitung cites a confidential report of the auditors from Deloitte that acted on behalf of the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin). Continue reading Thomas Middelhoff or how to earn money with a bad business model

Newspapers Economics and the need for new business models

Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google and co-author of the seminal book “Information Rules” just publishes an article on the changing economics of newspapers. The paper and his blog post is worthwhile reading.

The articles goes well along my analysis of the newspaper market, where I argue that just a transfer of the paper business model to the Internet does not work since the business model of traditional papers is unbundled by the Internet. A newspaper is three businesses (content, advertising (selling of readers’ attention) and classifieds (bringing demand and supply together) bundled together by paper. And on the Internet, the glue of paper does not exists any more. So the revenue model of newspapers will not work on the Internet.

Varian argues that newspapers actually never earned money with news from their frontpages but from special interest sections like Automotives, Travel, Home & Garden or Food & Drinks. These sections attracted contextually targeted advertising which is much more effective than non-targeted advertising like you have in the news section.

And in the Online world, special-interest sites attract the search-engine traffic and not general-interest sites like the Internet pages of newspapers.

Well, when you follow his arguments than a mere transfer of the traditional business model to the web will never work for newspapers.

Simply put. The Internet is different. It has different economics and therefore you have to adapt your business model to the changing economics. Either you do it or you die! And this not only true for newspapers but also for other industries.

[update March 29th, 2010] Seth Godin writes in his blog what it means when the economics are changing in the publishing industry. He highlights the possibility that great authors have the potential to lead their own tribe. They will not be bond to the paper publishers any more. The text is worthwhile reading since it shows new business opportunities for authors.

[update August 5th, 2010] Google posted another paper on the subject. It comments in this paper the Federal Trade Commission’s News Media Workshop and Staff Discussion Draft on “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism.” The paper is definitely more interesting than the title.

Google Comments To FTC

Changing financials, changing economics, retailing and business model innovations

In the discussion on business model innovation the focus is often on the innovations regarding the value proposition or on the value architecture but it is interesting to look at the revenue model as well for starting points for an innovation.

Anders Sundelin in a recent blog post reflected on net working capital and the influence of the business model on it.  I can only recommend his post to anyone. He shows how this important financial figure (net working capital)  is influenced by the business model. Actually, almost all innovation in the retail industry change the economics of the industry. They all start by minimizing the working capital needed in the operation. Since the traditional business model in retailing is very capital intensive due to inventory, all disruptive innovations help to reduce the capital tied to inventory. And interestingly, at the same time as the working capital is decreased or in same cases, it even becomes negative the margins on sales go down.

One example: department stores vs. discounters

In the 1960s managers in department stores were having a good time. Department stores ( marked with a 1) went well and their economics were great with gross profits of 40% on sales. Imaging you would have worked at let’s say Karstadt, a German department store. You have a great idea. You believe that the future of retailing will be different and you have the idea a discounter retail outlet with limited stocks and less choice for the clients. You do your economics and you end up with a gross profit of 23% on sales (marked with a 2).

Continue reading Changing financials, changing economics, retailing and business model innovations

Trust, Bankers and Soldiers of Fortunes – You get what you pay

The Swiss private banks are under pressure to change their business model. It is not just pressure from other states that want to fight tax evasion via exchange of information on bank customers but also from employers that try to sell stolen customers’ data  to foreign governments.

The big news in Switzerland is that an informant, crook or thief – whatever you like to call him depends from your standpoint – has offered the German authorities data from 1,500 German customers of Swiss Banks that have allegedly dodged taxes. Last year, another informant stole data on 3,000 French bank clients from the HSBC branch in Switzerland and sold it to the French authorities. And in 2008, Germany already purchased data on German customers of the Liechtenstein Bank LGT. The LGT case cost the German government several million Euro but they received a far higher pay-back on its investment form all the taxes and fines that the busted tax evaders had to pay.

There will be more

And these three data thefts will not be the last. It is not only the authorities of high-tax countries like France or Germany that see their high return of investment if they buy data from informants but also there will be more willing bankers that will sell data of its customers. Why? Continue reading Trust, Bankers and Soldiers of Fortunes – You get what you pay

Design thinking, Ideo and disruptive business model innovation

To be honest, I get a bit bored about the mantra that design thinking will solve the problems of large corporation. Well, when I go through the case studies at Ideo I am extremely impressed by their client list but not about the output. I have seen several design thinking sessions and I am not impressed at all with the output. The results are very often: More-of-the-Same but with fancier design.

Wer hat es erfunden? Novo Nordisk insulin pen

Where is the invention from design thinking that changed the industry? Where is the iTunes or the Kindle of Ideo? The problem with design thinking starts very early in the process with the problem definition phase. And that is where large corporations fail. They define the scope too narrow and than you get nice new things that sustain your current business but not new business models that rock your industry and yourself.

Ideo is a very good (self-) marketing & design firm but not an industry rocking firm. Large firms just love Ideo because Ideo just offers such a well designed process to solve the big problem of “being not innovative”. You hire Ideo for comforting yourself for not using your own common sense and your own customer insights. You just outsource your understanding of the customer to Ideo.

And how innovative are Ideo’s ideas?

Let’s take the example of the insulin pen Ideo describes on its homepage as a case [update 22nd Oct 2010, case is not available on IDEOs homepage any longer due to redesign of page]. Continue reading Design thinking, Ideo and disruptive business model innovation