So here's a chance for me to learn some new stuff, and I'm hoping that some of you business majors will jump in with some insight.
First, let me say that this is a question that the biggest corporations are struggling with, and very few of them have figured it out. The obvious exceptions are Google, Amazon, eBay, Apple, and pornographers. Google basically sells advertisements that float alongside their free Net services, and they've established a principle for success on the Net that others are starting to emulate: first provide value to the Net, then make money. Google provides a range of world-class network services (search, docs, email, etc.), mostly for free, and then sells ads to support those apps. Google is now unbelievably rich and powerful. So how do you become rich and powerful on the Net?
We've talked all semester long about the value that you add to the class, this class or any class. This is one of the main Sunday School lessons of this class, one of the concepts that you must carry with you beyond this class if you are to carry anything. I'll highlight it so that you get the point:
To succeed in the emerging Net economy, you must understand the value you bring to your network and you must be willing to give some of it away up front to attract connections. If you have no connections on the Net, then you are dead. You lose.
Got it? And here's the Sunday School lesson: Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). As far as I can tell, Jesus was a Net Genner, just a little ahead of time.
The Net is deadly for those who do not identify and cultivate their value-add. Hierarchies let too many slackers slide by. You've seen them, for instance, in school. They slide into class, sit in the back, say nothing, do nothing, connect to no one, add no value to the class. If they do anything, they do just enough to get a passing grade so that they don't get dropped from school. They add little value to the class, and they take little value from the class (just a passing grade), but the hierarchical structure supports them and helps them glide along. They've learned how to play the system just to get by. That won't work on the Net. The Net will simply flow around the slackers as people connect to others who do add value to the class. On the Net, there's no external hierarchical exoskeleton to support slackers. On the Net, you either have your own backbone, or you collapse.
It's the same with business. In the Net economy, there will be no hierarchical organization that you can hire into and then do just enough or suck up just enough that you can avoid getting fired. You'll either add value to the Net, or the Net will flow around you and toward those who do add value. So show up, sit in the front, and engage. Or die.
Okay, you're saying, but how do I make money on the Net? Well, you could sell goods. After all, that's the bedrock of capitalism. Apple is making tons of money selling music through its iTunes store (note that they also give away songs and podcasts, too—add value to get value). Amazon sells books and music. eBay sells everything. Wanna start a store? It's never been easier, or cheaper. Consider the Hot Sauce Store, the hottest byte on earth (get it?). What would it take for you to start your own hot sauce store? Not much, actually. You can find lots of sites that will host a business for you. SiteGround will do it starting at $5.95 a month. Even a student can afford that. The Hot Sauce Store uses RackSpace.
If you look down at the bottom of the Hot Sauce Store homepage, you'll see how they do the rest of their business:
- Hot Sauce ships everything through UPS. In fact, UPS will take over your complete shipping and logistics process and manage it for you. You invest in no trucks, no drivers, no fuel, no nothing.
- Hot Sauce handles all sales and financial transactions through PayPal and Google CheckOut. These companies will manage all your payments to suppliers and customers payments to you. You invest in no point of sales, no clerks, no computers, no nothing.
However, if I owned Hot Sauce, I'd do more on my website to build a vibrant hot sauce community. I'd provide space for customers to upload photos, recipes, funny stories, etc. about hot sauce. Do games, raffles, etc. Get people engaged. Offer them a social group to belong to, and they'll buy more hot sauce from me. In other words, add hot sauce value to their lives. It wouldn't take much, and I would benefit greatly.
You could also sell services. Easy ones that come to mind are tax preparation, etc.
If you have a traditional store front, you could use the Net as a support for your back office processes. Wal-Mart, for instance, requires all its suppliers to connect over the Net to its back office supply-chain systems. This means that when a bar of soap is scanned at the check-out in a Wal-Mart in Macon, Georgia, a purchase order is generated back at the soap factory in China, and a pick-up and delivery request to the shipper in Louisville, KY, and so on down the supply chain until another bar of soap ends up on the shelf in Macon. This back-office automation makes Wal-Mart very efficient and saves it billions a year in transaction costs. Only the Net can do that.
Of course, Wal-Mart had to build most of this back-office supply chain system themselves, at great expense. You and I don't have to. Amazon already has a supply-chain cloud in place, and they'll rent you space on it starting at very reasonable prices. It's done for you.
So can you think of more examples? Anyone want to challenge this Net-utopia? What do you business majors have to say? Add some value to this class.