There is one small detail that a lot of us forget when we jump in to a new venture. The one nit-picky thing is that it is usually a good idea to have a maket to sell in to.
Some products find a market. Some will disrupt a market. A few will capture a market, and even fewer will create a market.
Is there such thing as an Enterprise 2.0 market? If so, can you sell in to it? If not: are there startups trying to sell to customers who don’t exist?
To answer the question: There is no Enterprise 2.0 market. Enterprise 2.0 budgets do not exist, except where some early adoptors create them, and there is no Enterprise 2.0 sales cycle. There are very few incentive available to experts right now and the discontinuity that has arisen in the concept is a symptom of that.
From an economic point of view, Enterprise 2.0 does not exist.
This presents a problem for a few people, but most of all it is a barb in the side of the world of Enterprise 2.0 Startups we have seen emerging in the last few years. Most have spent a lot of time, and even more money, trying to sell in to a market that they have no power to either create, define or own.
If you are trying to define an Enterprise 2.0 market, then you will first need to define a problem set that is solveable and that customers in the market will reward you for solving.
Defining the narrower Enterprise 2.0 Software Market means having a problem set that is solveable by software alone. If you are a provider of software only, then this is a big problem right now.
Since the genesis of the term Enterprise 2.0, most of us have not had a problem describing the technology that falls under its umbrella. SLATES, which stands for Search, Links, Authoring, Tags, Extensions, and Signals, is a prime example as it defines a set of technical patterns which could theoretically be applied to solve some set of problems, but the catch is that the problem set still remains largely undefined 2 years later.
What markets do exist?
You can approach this problem 2 ways. The first is to offer a solution that solves a basic need across a host of industries. Jeff mentioned Echosign as a great example of this, their digital signature solution is growing steadily across a large customer base and they are potentially becoming a platform for other identity-based solutions. This is dramatically different from selling a suite of tools to a host of industries, it is focused on solving a specific problem using the 2.0 motif.
The second approach is to sell in to existing vertical markets. That means you are building an Enterprise 2.0 specific toolkit for an industry that needs it. In doing this your solution will have not offer just the same Social Bookmarking, Tagging, Blogs, and Wikis that you probably have, but you will need to offer vertical-specific features which string your Enterprise 2.0 tools together. In doing this there is also a potentially lucrative platform play in partnering with other E2.0 companies who want to sell in to your vertical market.
You will die on that cross
Do not go to war for Enterprise 2.0. We are seeing many of the failings of the moniker as its message has become more and more fuzzy, it is time for you to rescue your startup and refocus. The people who are making the most money off this term right now are consultants who are helping their clients navigate some of the fluff from the substance.
An Enterprise 2.0 market can only emerge when there are a significant number of healthy startups who are successful in either their own vertical or niche space. Through the slow rolling up (consolidation) of those smaller markets, a larger market can be created. This has been seen with Content Management and even with Sharepoint (yes, there is a Sharepoint market). It never did happen with Knowledge Management however.
What about me?, I am an Enterprise 2.0 customer
I can only imagine that this post is a little confusing for those of you who are trying to bring Enterprise 2.0 solutions in to your companies. Here is my advice:
Find a real problem and find a real solution for it
If you recognize like I do that throwing grease (I mean – SLATES) on the fire will only make it worse, then try to focus in. What specific problems in your organization could benefit from a blog-based approach, or under what circumstances would a wiki solve a real headache. What I am saying is: Turn off the noise and get down to work
Don’t trumpet Enterprise 2.0, talk about those real problems
When you find or solve a problem then you should talk about it not in terms of Enterprise 2.0, but in terms of an agile, low-cost approach. This makes sense to a lot more people.
I believe that Enterprise 2.0 provides a framework under which early adoptors are able to connect and share their own knowledge, but it is far too loosely defined in order to be able to be applied directly to any set of organizational problems. What makes it worse is that also means there is no market which can sustain Enterprise 2.0 innovation, and I believe that lack of a knowledge market and of a real dollar market is why we have seen so little movement in the concept in the last year.
The Enterprise 2.0 moniker is for those who do not need direct economic reward or incentive.