The past fifteen years have seen a building out of Internet infrastructure stack. Buried in this stack sit what we term the the lean technologies, the crown jewels behind everything we’re seeing now. These are: rapid product integration, open source, and big data, which, taken together have allowed entrepreneurs to deliver robust services offering high value across an unlimited range of applications, all done within a lean capital structure. Here’s Bullpen’s view of the current web services landscape:
Rapid product iteration refers to the entrepreneurial attitude that ‘every click is a survey’ , but this is only allowed by the proliferation of modern software development tool technologies. In some sense, every day is a pivot, as the users tell the entrepreneurs how to fix what is always broken on the first tries out of the box.
Open source refers to the availability of the deep technology stack underlying all sophisticated web services now widely available at very low cost that once had to be built from scratch. Their low cost is not so much a matter of no license fees, but the fact that they are complete, ready to use, and robustly proven in large scale production. That their reliability needn’t be questioned is central to minimizing time to first customer trial, minimizing total money spent.
Big data refers to the diffusion of the engineering expertise behind manipulating the massive data sets that are central to all sophisticated web services (built on top of the open source tools mentioned above). The science of big data has bled out from firms like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other large early players, and is now well taught, studied, and appreciated. Any start-up can routinely access the best and brightest scientific minds and methods.
Adding to the mix was the rise of Social and Mobile Everywhere.
Mobile carriers sought to keep the mobile platform from becoming open for years. Their “walled-gardens” delayed appreciation for the value of mobile platform openness. RIM brought some insight, but its focus on business minimized what we learned. The dam finally burst with the launch of i-Phone. Today, it is hard to imagine any Internet based service not having a significant mobile component.
The first Internet based social initiatives were proposed even before Yahoo. To say they did not take off is a major understatement. Until it became clear that Linked-In was going to be a major success, doubts remained. Even then, very few perceived what a Facebook could do. Now we know. One can only admire the early true believers for their over-the-horizon vision.
Bullpen believes the explosive value of web-based products and services comes from three interlinked factors:
- Development tools that allow easy grafting of the UI and application layers to the deeper underlying cloud and web infrastructure technologies
- Ubiquitous availability and easy access to high powered mobile devices through increasingly open handset APIs
- The rise of the ‘social everywhere’ platform (largely thanks to Facebook), which creates a rapid diffusion mechanism for new ideas via word-of-mouth effect.
Today’s inflection point in new forms of web services is analogous to the time when the early PC finally had the power needed to create real computing value for individual users. In the PC era, millions of new users were brought on board. Today, the number is billions, three orders of magnitude greater.