You have more customers than you think


No one just builds a platform anymore. They have to make a market.

That’s what I told my colleague and good friend Duane Wells. Duane is a co-founder of CertSpring, an application that provides rapid, low-cost curriculum development and knowledge verification or “microcredentialing” for partners in content publishing and professional development. (Full disclosure: I am engaged with CertSpring to assist in marketing strategy and business development.)

The major platforms and in our life seem inevitable after the fact, but they were impossible at first, and their predecessors were impregnable right up until the moment they were undone.Technology now facilitates any combination of content, analytics, user mechanics, and social layering. But plugging all of the above together, no matter how seamlessly, proves nothing. If Rome wasn’t built in a day, don’t be fooled into thinking that the invention of cranes means Dubai can (or should) be.

Parts of an entrepreneur’s work have become faster and cheaper, but his work is not shorter or easier; that speed of effort and capital means that all assumptions are up for grabs and should be actioned comprehensively and simultaneously. It’s no longer possible to build a deeply functional product and wait for it to find its user niche, nor is it easy to grab and hold large swaths of engaged users without a compelling reason for them to discover what may be technically possible. Nothing can be taken for granted. Bridging the gap over a market problem to create a successful product lies in the difference between merely facilitating the combination of solution elements and catalyzing those elements.

On that note of market transmogrification, Duane occasionally uses the word alchemy to describe the success we’re pursuing–the stories in which the platform does deliver an experience that is affirmed as value-creating by both the “partner” and “customer” stakeholders, in a space where neither group realized value could be made. Now, I don’t think I have enough personality to get away with using such a sensationalizing word; besides, what we’re attempting isn’t entirely magical even as we look through an iPhone screen, darkly.

Product/market fit, service edition, is a process that regular old kinda-smart folk like ourselves can keep taking cracks at and getting closer each time. Good thing, because an element of two-way marketplace management catalysis exists in almost every business model, and increasingly in our careers. We are all continuously finding a way to stay in the value chain.

Platforms don’t make their own markets. People–like Duane, the CertSpring team, and I–do. And I hope you do too.


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