“Connect people, give them access to information, remove barriers, and organize them around a purpose or a problem and then see the magic”~One of My Mentors
Think about this at scale. That is precisely digital disruption. One can trace back the beginnings of this disruption to 1998. The Internet was fast exploding and ways to find information was still rudimentary. Yahoo! the new defunct company started indexing links for users. However, the real breakthrough occurred with the arrival of Google.
Making Information accessible at scale
In 1998, Google launched with a simple box where people can enter a search term and access most relevant links or websites. Behind this simple consumer experience was an algorithm, plethora of servers, storage, and computer networks all working in harmony. It soon became a verb and anyone with access to Internet could simply Google up information.
Connecting people at scale
In 2004, Facebook launched. It soon became akin to addiction. More importantly Facebook created the term Social Network and showed that it could be done at scale. Facebook’s predecessors like MySpace also played a key role in making Social Networking mainstream. Today, at about 2.6Bn users and still growing, Facebook and its suite of Apps are more than two most populous countries – India and China put together. Social Networking allowed people to connect with each other. Experts and Entrepreneurs could build followers. Users could connect with other users who shared similar interests.
Reducing barriers to building
In 2006, Amazon launched Amazon Web Services (AWS) and coined the term Cloud Computing. Until AWS, any Entrepreneur or even a large corporation including Amazon itself struggled to build software at scale. Setting up a new company or a software application required servers, storage systems, networks, security, physical space to locate those servers, and then duplicate that entire infrastructure for backups and more. It just costed a lot of money upfront. To overcome its own internal struggle, Amazon launched an internal service that allowed engineers to push a bunch of buttons and get all these setup automatically, on-demand, and rent space on shared infrastructure. It dramatically helped with its internal speed. It then made the same solution available to the world. As of Q4 2019, AWS is a $9.96Bn/Quarter business. AWS and more broadly cloud computing dramatically reduced barriers to building new things!
Making Connections and Information Ubiquitous
In 2007, Apple launched iPhone. Until iPhone, you still needed to find Internet connection. iPhone basically opened up access to Internet anytime/anywhere as well as put a suite of Internet enabled applications also known as Apps in people’s hand. Android soon followed. Wireless technology grew leaps and bounds to keep up with the growth of iPhone and Android Phones. People were now empowered with the ability to access to information and connect with people real-time. Apps increased people’s reliance on their Phones for many tasks like directions, calculator, compass, and more. This technology has now grown leaps and bounds to become a person’s digital identity.
Reducing barriers to reaching consumers
A much bigger innovation of Apple is the App Store that launched in 2008. Actually, one could argue that it wasn’t a new concept. However, given the simplicity for entrepreneurs to create and sell software and for consumers to find, buy, and download them on their phone meant that these phones became even more indispensable. More entrepreneurs created software and more people downloaded them. It would be hard to fathom companies like Uber or even Facebook.
Similarly, the growth of Amazon and its sprawling infrastructure of warehouses gave rise to what is now referred to as eCommerce. eBay was another pioneer in this space. Anyone around the world could sign up onto these platforms and start selling to consumers.
It popularized the term Platforms. Platforms are software programs that connect people around a specific purpose and reduce friction involved in that connection.
A decade of digital foundations
If you step back and look at the period of 1998-2008, it was an era of digital foundations that fuel today’s disruptive growth. Computers connected people, gave them access to information, reduced barriers to build and reach consumers. This activated a swarm of entrepreneurs who were passionate around a purpose, expertise, or focused on solving a problem. All the above mentioned companies grew manifold and along with them emerged a bunch of disruptive companies.
Let’s explore 2009-2019: A decade of business disruption in the next article (coming soon)