An Open Letter to MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta

Mr. Van Natta, you have a chance to enact bold innovation, create new products and make MySpace a leader for the next 20 years.
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Dear Mr. Van Natta,

You started your new position as CEO of MySpace on April 27th and you're one month into your new gig. By now you've gotten the lay of the land, met with all the key players and given your inspirational speeches. You've had meetings with Rupert and looked down the long list of mandates from the News Corp office for your upcoming year.

After the initial honeymoon winds down and you start getting into the day-to-day of MySpace's future, the question is: can an executive who has always been a classic ops and biz dev guy drive the revolutionary innovation that MySpace needs to dominate the future?

Simply put, you are taking the reigns of MySpace at the most critical juncture in its modern history. Facebook has proven a worthy adversary and you are in a position of underdog once again. Sure, you have 130 million users, but your traffic is stagnating, competition is rising, your sweetheart deal with Google is about to end and you have recently laid off 5% of your workforce. What's more, the recent redesign did little to build buzz or attract a new audience.

Perhaps you will take what you learned at Amazon about monetization or finding great talent and apply those to Myspace. You could even look back at your Facebook past to guide your future. But instead, I challenge you to look to a familiar face in Palo Alto, Apple Computer, to guide your path at this critical juncture. Follow their history closely and it just might inform your strategy and, more importantly, define your story.

This is your Steve Jobs moment. Will you "Think Different" and instill the drastic change and innovation that is needed at MySpace or will you cobble together smart, safe and evolutionary measures?

The similarities are tough to ignore. Founded by a couple of upstart guys with attitude and vision, MySpace and Apple created new paradigms by emphasizing customization (it's "my space") and personalization (personal computers). This attitude and innovation drove audience and revenue while creating the backbone of the company spirit and brand.

But times changed. For Apple it was 1980. With the increase in sales of personal computers came an increase in company size and, more importantly, new investors who took seats on the Board of Directors. Older, more conservative men, they made sure that Apple became a "real company," much to the dismay of many of its original employees (sound familiar?).

IBM (or Facebook?) and Microsoft emerged as tough competitors with a simple, businesslike approach to their products. They had structure, order and a basic blue color. They had a "better" personal computer and they went on to dominate the market while Apple fell behind (I see a theme developing here).

Revenues were down, the company direction was unclear and the troops were restless. It was 1993. During the critical four-year span until 1997, Apple brought in new CEOs to lead the company. First Michael Spindler and then Gil Amelio. Both made changes and small strides, but they didn't provide the cultural shift and strategic leap that the company needed to gain ground on Big they didn't last long. It was not until Steve Jobs returned in 1998 that Apple created the platform that would drive their next 30 years. With bold thinking and drastic changes he moved the company into new areas that redefined their ethos and put design at the forefront of their brand.

2009 is your 1993. Of course, you'll still have to make the numbers. After all, Steve showed profit faster then most thought he could in July of 1998. It helped get Wall Street on his side, quieted the board and gave his epic strategic shift some breathing room. The iBook and PowerMac G4 were a completely new way to look at computer design and with the iPod, Apple simplified and reinvented the personal entertainment device. Sure you're gonna make mistakes along the way (uh...the G4 cube) but it was music that saved the day for Apple and so perhaps it will be the same for you.

So what will it be? Will it be an epic deal with the music labels? Will it be a reinvention of online video to compete with Google? Will it be a ground-breaking technology for how artists create, share and sell music? Will it be a complete redesign and rebrand of the community? Steve severed a partnership with Power Computing and brought some control back to their product. Do you take a calculated step towards controlling Myspace's interface and bringing a new sense of order to the universe?

Whatever it is, think big. You have a chance to enact bold innovation, create new products and make MySpace a leader for the next 20 years. You have a choice: You can be the Steve Jobs or you can be Micheal and Gil. Which is it gonna be?


Matt Spangler

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