One can only imagine the sheer volume of pitches angel and VC investors get today that start with, "We'll be the next Uber…" or "We'll be the Uber of X industry." Uber has become a generic term for a highly visible, seemingly successful disruptive business. It is a perfect example of a successful platform company.
As we wrote a few weeks ago in Why platforms beat products every time, 14 of the top 30 global brands by market capitalization in 2013 were platform-oriented companies. Both established companies and startups are flocking to the platform business model. But as participants in the recent MIT Sloan Executive Education program Platform Strategy: Building and Thriving in a Vibrant Ecosystem learned, creating a successful platform is much more complicated than simply connecting two parties and collecting the revenue. (In the case of Uber, the two parties are people with cars sitting idle and people who need rides from one place to another.)
What makes a platform a platform?
"Just because something is called a platform, doesn’t make it a platform from a business perspective," says Catherine Tucker, Associate Professor of Marketing at MIT Sloan. “A platform business must have network effects--people value it more highly the more others use it." The easiest way to think of the network effect of a platform is to consider Skype or the fax machine--they’re only valuable if many people are using them.