Can You Stand Up as a Platform Company?

Stop me if you’ve read this description before: “We are the world’s leading platform that.... ” All the world's a platformHad Shakespeare lived in the Bay Area in 2013, he might have written that "All the world's a platform."  There are great successful modern companies that are indeed platforms, and therefore are exemplary aspirational models for budding entrepreneurs. Facebook. Amazon. Salesforce.  A platform position gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to say that they have a massive addressable market, not to mention a grand vision. No wonder so many entrepreneurs are working "platform" into their elevator pitches and positioning statements. Some even have good credibility and justification for doing so.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that all the world is not a platform.  Saying that you are a platform company, when in fact you're not, will create a host of negative side effects for your company, likely outweighing any benefits you might get by using the claim.  Here are two reasons to consider striking "platform" from your positioning vocabulary, at least for now:

  1. If you are positioning yourself as a platform and you are today a point solution, not only are you confusing your audience, you are losing credibility. You need to communicate why you matter today, which often is substantially different than what you would say when you can truly deliver on the platform promise.  Consider Amazon.  As it grew initially into a commerce powerhouse, leadership positioned the company as "the leading online retailer of books."   Consider Facebook.  It began as a way to connect people socially.  Say that Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg knew all along that they would eventually be corporate giants with powerful platforms.  You wouldn't have heard a peep about it in their positioning during their initial rise to fame. Instead, they positioned themselves to connect to their audience about the specific point solution they provided.  Flawless ecommerce.  Social connection. Their platform plays were communicated later.
  2.  Companies often underestimate what it means to be a platform, and what is required for the claim to be true. To be a platform, you must have multiple partners who are eager to connect into what you've built. There must be developers who are motivated to build on yours, instead of on any of their myriad options.  Partners, developers, buyers:  They must have motivation to want to plug in to your platform. Are you prepared to market and sell this way? Are you prepared to have a dedicated developer relations team? Do you have the right developer onboarding process and collateral that allows developers to get started quickly and easily? Have you thought through your customers' platform alternatives and credibly answered why yours is a superior and sufficient option?

Amazon's, Facebook's, and Salesforce's visions did not get realized overnight. Neither will yours. Just because you want to be the world’s leading platform in your industry doesn’t mean you should position yourself that way out of the gate. The incredible application and its associated value proposition you’ve worked so hard to develop is only the first of many steps on this journey. So don’t dismiss the opportunity to tell the world about your role and relevance today, based on the need you exist to solve now.