Platform Driven Companies Prove Impact of Collaborative Commerce


This month’s Harvard Business Review focuses on the rise of businesses of all sizes using platforms instead of mere products to drive company growth.

As the debate continues over the real “sharing” behind the sharing economy, the new platform strategy boom may provide real insight into the undeniable impact that collaborative economy businesses are having on the broader global economic landscape and entrepreneurialism overall. 

As often is the case, many great tips on agile innovation can be seen in smaller start up businesses and applied to larger traditional companies to help foster new growth and innovation. This has been the case with the new platform centric approach to doing business, which most definitely got its sea legs with the likes of sharing economy companies like Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit.

That said, as 2016 continues to emerge as the year the collaborative economy makes a true imprint on corporate America, some key lessons can also be learned from major companies as entrepreneurs work to adjust to the new platform driven marketplace.

If we look at GE and Microsoft working to transform and grow in size and scale by switching to platform business models instead of product centric or pipeline driven ones, the impact of collaborative commerce on broader business becomes evident.

Platform businesses that bring together producers and consumers as Uber and Airbnb do are capturing increased market share and transforming how competitive edge is achieved. Yesterday it was through product differentiation. Today it is through scale and impact. 

With the iOT Predix GE platform for instance, the same ecosystem concept built around the marriage of technology and knowledge or service sharing  that drives many collaborative economy models can be seen.

As GE works to go back to its industrial roots, it is using their new Predix platform to shape and define the future of the Industrial Internet. The platform, which falls under GE Digital, is being built to sit at the “intersection of people, machines, big data and analytics.” This new area of GE, recently launched as part of the company’s massive transformation, is expected to bring the company $6 billion alone in 2016.

Microsoft is also using a platform instead of product approach in the huge redesign of its Outlook email program by bringing together outside partners like PayPal, Uber, Evernote and Yelp! to create not just a winning email product, but winning email ecosystem.

According to HBR “With a platform model, the critical asset is the community and resources of its members. The focus of strategy shifts from controlling resources to orchestrating them, from optimizing internal resources, to facilitating external interactions and from increasing customer value to optimizing ecosystem value.”

Doesn’t all this new innovation sound a lot like the collaborative economy? Creating ecosystems built off of technology platforms to unite people around shared ideas and the accomplishment of specific goals?

With new models of success being predicated on a company’s ability to create platform driven models, the massive impact of the collaborative economy becomes more and more visceral. Companies ranging from John Deere to Nike are quickly scrambling to get in the game.

As big business continues to look to smaller, entrepreneurial enterprises for cues on how to succeed and lead in the future, following are a few key points for entrepreneurs to consider as the debate over platform vs. pipeline businesses continues to unfold:


  1. Products by category and price point are largely commoditized. That being the case, a company must try to drive engagement and attain customer loyalty through winning experiences. Platform models that build ecosystems can offer such seamless interfaces and are critical to attaining long-term enhanced performance and competitive advantage.
  1. While small is the new beautiful, scale not size matters. Through the power of the ioT today any company can appear large enough to have a powerful and broad reach. That being said, there is a difference between being large enough to sell products globally, and being able to offer seamless and consistent products and services on a global scale. In order to achieve the latter, entrepreneurs must create winning platform models that connect consumers directly to producers wherever possible. While a bespoke approach to creativity is vital to product and service development, creating networks that allow scale to occur quickly and efficiently are an imperative.
  1. A company is great. A company with an amazing brand is better. Today, anyone can leverage technology to create their own “company” few however have the rigor, discipline and creativity to imagine and actualize their own brand. The key difference between a company and a company with a brand, is the type of immersive experiences provided. Companies by and large just sell good products. Companies with amazing brands sell products AND offer one-of-a-kind experiences. By looking to create ecosystem driven platforms within your organization, a company is much likelier to be able to transcend to ‘brand” status by its ability to scale its experiences and innovations.
  1. Collaboration today is the key to everything. The sharing economy has changed not only the game, but the way the game must be played. Companies today are so much better in partnership and collaboration with others, be they external partners, vendors, consumers or even their own employees. The key to victory in switching from a pipeline driven product focused company to a platform one is recognizing that while innovation, disruption, speed and resources are critical to innovation, one of the most vital ingredients is the collaborative approach to commerce that platform models provide.

It seems clear that future success is going to be driven by those wise enough to harness the power of collaboration to build winning ecosystems that drive innovation, disruption and industry leadership. 

While the comparisons between huge platform companies like GE and Microsoft and smaller collaborative economy players like TaskRabbit and Postmates may possess a few disparities, the undeniable fact is that an age of doing it for the we instead of the singular me is most definitely at the heart of the future of business.

Welcome to a world where it will be collaborative driven platforms not mere products that determine victory. Hail the new age of We-Commerce.

Billee Howard is the Founder of Brandthropologie where she helps brands with collaborative content and digital storytelling. She has also recently launched a class on “How to Executive Produce Your Brand For Dummies


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